Sean Penn’s CORE Raises $1.4M at Pre-Oscars Benefit, as Star Warns Against “Growing Disaster of Division” in U.S.

Amid a very busy week of Oscar events, Sean Penn’s relief organization CORE took a moment to shift the focus from toasting this year’s top films to raising money for ongoing crises around the world.

At CORE’s Pre-Oscars Benefit on Tuesday — sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter and Dodge — $1.4 million was raised to finance the group’s humanitarian work, with support from a star-studded group of attendees. Penn, CORE CEO Ann Lee and CAA’s Bryan Lourd (who is both Penn’s agent and a CORE board member) co-hosted the event, held at a private residence in Laurel Canyon, while Bill Burr served as the night’s emcee.

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“This is such a wonderful organization — I’ve done so many benefits in my stand-up career where the charity was B.S., like 10 percent of 10 percent went to something,” Burr told guests at the beginning of the night. “This is actually one of the few that I loan my time to because it’s a great thing, and Sean has done so many wonderful things.”

Bill Burr speaks during CORE's Pre-Oscars Benefit: An Evening Supporting Communities In Crisis at Ross House on March 05, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Bill Burr hosted the event.

Penn himself grabbed the mic shortly after, reflecting on the group’s formation in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. “I’ve often described CORE as the little engine that could, but never without acknowledging that we were an airplane that was going have to build itself after takeoff, because we wanted to get to it and start having an impact immediately. We knew there would be risks, but we were going to go airborne now and make our apologies later,” the actor explained.

In the years since, the organization has brought immediate aid and recovery to underserved communities in times of crisis, including help for Ukraine, the Maui wildfires and COVID relief. “Our jet’s now built for battle, and because we believe so strongly in our local teams throughout the world, we want our plane to be your plane,” Penn added.

He also took a moment to explain what he hoped the night would be for those in attendance, particularly during the current political climate and ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

“We all know the threat and heartbreak posed by natural disasters, but if you’re like me, the greater threats are the man-made ones. Every war is a disaster made by man, of course, but here’s another one: the scale of the growing disaster of division in our country alone. We feel it, we talk about, and if we’re honest, most of us too often find ourselves participating in it,” the star said. “I can tell you with certainty that in this room right now with us, there are some old friends who will not talk to each other anymore after Oct. 7.”

Penn continued, “Tonight, I ask that we consider that perhaps even more significantly — even than any one war, long-term — is the disaster that will come when we let even those most powerful, painful and passionate issues of debate in our time atrophy the overwhelming dominance of the strength of the commonalities we little tiny creatures share. My hope is we use tonight to help each other spend these few hours, at least these few hours, in such a way that we come out of it feeling like we did something together.”

Soleil Moon Frye, Rainn Wilson, and Holiday Reinhorn attend CORE's Pre-Oscars Benefit: An Evening Supporting Communities In Crisis at Ross House on March 05, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
From left: Soleil Moon Frye, Rainn Wilson and Holiday Reinhorn attended the event.

Penn’s speech was followed by a dinner and live auction, with big-ticket items including an artwork by Edward Ruscha (which Penn himself landed for $90,000), an exclusive tour and dinner party at the Palace of Versailles (sold for $100,000) and a painting by Harmony Korine, donated by Leonardo DiCaprio from his personal art collection, which went for $300,000.

Penn then returned to give his thanks for the evening, shouting out Lourd in particular, whom he called “my brother from another mother” and said, “I keep forgetting he is this super agent in the world because I keep seeing him as a true-blood great friend. And I forget that I even have a business, much less that I have a business representative.” He also called DiCaprio “my hero” — the two are currently working together on Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest project — and said Burr “is one of three people who keeps me sane enough to be where I can function.”

He then showed the room a brief clip from The Hardest Hour, a documentary showcasing the war in Ukraine that was filmed entirely by Ukrainians on their phones, calling the film “the one we’ve all gotta see” as CORE continues its work there amid the continued invasion by Russia.

The night wound down with musical performances by Chris Martin, Leon Bridges and Cat Power; Penn hopped onstage between the sets for one final go at fundraising, committing to donating $100,000 himself and rallying guests to match the figure as he ran to the restroom. Martin — whose partner Dakota Johnson was also in attendance — was joined onstage by background singers that included super-songwriter Max Martin. He performed Coldplay hit “Viva La Vida” before shifting to covers of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Ginuwine’s “Pony,” Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” the last of which he dubbed “maybe the best song ever.”

Guests at the event also included Rainn Wilson, Diplo, Rachel Zoe, Garcelle Beauvais, Soleil Moon Frye and Killers of the Flower Moon producer Bradley Thomas.

Chris Martin (R) performs during CORE's Pre-Oscars Benefit: An Evening Supporting Communities In Crisis at Ross House on March 05, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Chris Martin (right) was among the performers at the event.

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