Sean Penn’s Oscar Gift to Ukraine’s Zelensky Divides Fans: ‘It Cringes Your Teeth’

Sean Penn loaned one of his Oscars to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday as a sign of solidarity with the country’s conflict with Russia. Many fans applauded the award-winning actor for the move, but others called the decision “performative.”

Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, praised Penn in a social media post Tuesday.

“Sean Penn gave Ukraine his Oscar – @ZelenskyyUa“, he wrote in a Tweeter. “Thank you, sir! It’s an honor for us.”

Dozens of social media users responded favorably to the swap, with one person calling it a “gift from the heart”.

“Although symbolic, how many of us would give something so precious to a noble cause?” Well done, Sean! Cheer ! user @StanleyPrusins1 tweeted.

Twitter user @OvidiuSky also seemed touched, writing“Absolutely beautiful gesture from Sean Penn… My level of respect has gone up to 1000 for Penn and for the way President Zelenskyy acted and received this. In difficult times like this, people surprise you with their immense humanity and empathy.”

Critics, however, were quick to condemn the move on social media, tweeting, in part: “It’s cringe.” Another person echoed that sentiment in their own Tweeter which included a GIF of star wars the droid R2-D2 falling, along with the words “die in recoil”.

A Twitter user, @monaliza_kcreplied to Gerashchenko’s tweet: “Sean Penn seems pretty disgusting to me and I don’t know what his Oscar is going to do to help Ukraine, what are they going to do to throw him at the Russians? All that seems very performative.”

Penn won two Academy Awards for Best Actor: one for Milk (2008) and another for the mystical river (2003).

Holly Baird, crisis management consultant, said Newsweek that while many will love Penn for loaning the statuette, others will hate him. Supporters say the actor is “doing the Lord’s work” and using his fame for good.

Critics, however, are fed up with celebrities getting involved in international affairs, Baird said, citing former NBA player Dennis Rodman – who cultivated a friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – as another example.

Hollywood actor and director Sean Penn (R) meets Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky (L) as he presents his Oscar statuette to the Ukrainian President in Kyiv, Ukraine November 8. Many fans applauded the award-winning actor for the gesture, but others called the gesture “performative.”
Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty

“I I have no doubt that he… walks around and sees the effects of war on a small country like Ukraine and what they have to face against Russia,” Baird said. “But actors are still bombarded comments like that every time they try to use their fame or align themselves with a cause.”

She added, “Actors are real people too. There’s no reason they can’t have some kind of cause that fits their hearts.”

Penn has long supported Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian invasion. The actor-director sought to cover the conflict in a documentary, traveling to Ukraine in February this year. He also called on the United States to join the fight.

Penn and Hollywood celebrity Ben Stiller were recently banned from visiting Russia.

Newsweek has contacted Penn representatives for comment.


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