Skip to Content

Sean Penn files $10 million defamation lawsuit against Empire’s Lee Daniels

"The Gunman" Los Angeles Premiere"The Gunman" Los Angeles Premiere
Actor Sean Penn.Photograph by Jason LaVeris — FilmMagic/Getty Images

Sean Penn has filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Lee Daniels, according to the Guardian.

The complaint, which was filed on Tuesday, is the result of an interview Daniels gave to the Hollywood Reporter, according to the report.

Daniels—an Oscar-nominated writer and director, as well as the co-creator of Empire, a hit series that airs on Fox—reportedly accused Penn of domestic violence while discussing Empire star Terrence Howard’s history of physical abuse toward women.

Howard has admitted to assaulting his first wife, and he has had two restraining orders filed against him from his second. He has also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was accused of attacking a couple when one of them complained that he had cut the line at a restaurant.

In the interview Daniels said: “That poor boy, [Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn and all of a sudden he’s some fuckin’ demon.” Penn was charged with domestic assault in 1988 while he was married to the pop singer Madonna, and he pleaded to a misdemeanor. The year before, he had spent 33 days in jail after assaulting a photographer.

The first paragraph of the actor’s complaint reads:

As a result of Penn’s status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks. But Penn, like any citizen, has a right to defend himself and will no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behaviour of others, who seek to aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense. Accordingly, and because of Daniels’ defamatory statements, Penn brings this action for monetary relief, and to deter Daniels and others from their defamatory actions

It goes on to say that by defending Howard, Daniels was essentially condoning his actions.

Daniels made his comments on the night of the 67th Annual Emmy Awards, for which Empire had received three nominations.