In September, Lee Daniels compared Sean Penn’s past with Terrence Howard’s arrest history for assault. Penn countered with a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Daniels’ “unflattering words” and now, citing the First Amendment, the Empire showrunner wants the suit thrown out of court.
During a September interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Daniels defended his choice of hiring Howard as Lucious Lyon:
“That poor boy,” he says, fiercely protective of his actor. He then alludes to other actors who have been the subject of domestic abuse allegations in the past. “[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f—in’ demon,” says Daniels. “That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
Penn took offense at Daniels likening Howard’s life—who’s been arrested six times for assault—to Penn’s history, which includes, among other things, being jailed for hanging a photographer out of a ninth story window and a report of Penn physically abusing his ex-wife Madonna in 1988, though the pop star’s complaint was withdrawn.
For Daniels’ defense, he is highlighting the First Amendment.
“With fame, money and high-priced legal counsel, Penn has the power to buy most things. Fortunately for Daniels, the First Amendment is not for sale,” reads Daniels’ memorandum of law to dismiss via Deadline Hollywood. “It protects Daniels and others from lawsuits like this one, financially-draining attacks brought to punish free speech exercised to Penn’s chagrin.”
The memo also suggests that Penn doesn’t want his history to become a national talking point now when the conversation of domestic abuse is in the spotlight.
“Ostensibly filed to protect his name from those who “aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense,” Penn’s Complaint is merely a blunt force instrument wielded in an attempt to control the narrative of his life,” continues the memorandum. “And to expunge alleged misdeeds sensationalized by the press for decades (or, as a neatly summarized by a recent headline: “Sean Penn Forgets We All Know He Beat Madonna and Sues Lee Daniels for Defamation”).2”
Under New York State law, Daniels must prove that he knew for sure that his words about Penn were true. As such, his lawyers’ memo includes a number of excerpts from a Madonna biography, Google search results, and news stories alleging violence in Penn’s past.
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via AP.