Sean Penn claims 'salacious' Me Too movement divides men and women

Sean Penn has claimed the #MeToo movement divides men and women, calling it “suspicious” and “salacious”.

The two-time Oscar-winning actor – who has previously criticised the movement against sexual harassment and assault – argued it lacked nuance and was “too black and white” in its approach.

Penn made the comments during an appearance on NBC’s Today programme alongside his co-star Natascha McElhone, the pair promoting their new TV show The First which follows a team of astronauts as they race to become the first humans to visit Mars.

Host Natalie Morales asked if #MeToo – which exploded last autumn after a series of sexual misconduct allegations were made against powerful men in Hollywood and a number of other industries – has “informed” the show and its characters, including several female astronauts and a US president who is a woman.

“I’d like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo,” Penn replied. “I think it’s influenced by the things that are developing in terms of the empowerment of women who’ve been acknowledging each other and being acknowledged by men.”

The 58-year-old added: “This is a movement that was largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious”.

“Well, we don’t know what’s a fact in many of the cases,” he said after Morales asked him to explain what he meant. “Salacious is as soon as you call something a movement that is really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations, some of which are unfounded. The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women.”

Morales challenged Penn by saying that “women would say it’s united women.” But Penn claimed that the women he has discussed it with – “of all walks of life” – gave him the idea that “there’s a common sense that is not represented at all in the discussion when it comes to the media discussion of it.”

“The discussion where ‘if Sean Penn says this, so and so is going to attack him for saying this because of that,’” he said. “I’m very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed onto in great stridency and rage and without nuance. And even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way, the nuance is attacked.”

After Morales asked Penn if the #MeToo movement had grown too big, he said: “I think it’s too black and white. In most things that are very important, it’s really good to just slow down.”

In spite of Penn’s comments, McElhone said the cast spoke about the movement “a great deal” on set.

“I think what Sean was maybe alluding to is this sort of bubble of actors or people who are in magazines that have gotten a lot of attention from this,” she said. “Of course, it’s terrific that they’ve put a spotlight on it. But now, it’s we need to go to the places where this is happening behind closed doors, and it’s not exposed and those voices aren’t being heard.”

Penn, who has starred in films Milk, Mystic River and I Am Sam, criticised the #MeToo movement back in May – telling The Guardian it was “led by mania”, “not intellectually honest”, and filled with “self-aggrandisement and venting”.