Prior to announcing Birdman as the Best Picture winner at last Sunday's Academy Awards, veteran Hollywood actor cracked a very xenophobic joke at filmmaker Alejandro González's expense.
"Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?" Penn said before inviting Gonzalez – his longtime friend –on stage to collect the prestigious trophy.
To erase allegations that the Academy favors white actors, the organizers had tried hard to make the ceremony as positive as possible, but that one remark from Penn ruined it all. While Gonzalez claimed that he had no qualms with that comment and that it was just regular banter between two old friends, social media had none of it.
Soon, Twittersphere flooded with responses like these:
I'm shocked and appalled. I have always admired #SeanPenn as an imperfection-free ambassador of tolerance.— John Powers (@ComicJohnPowers) February 23, 2015
Some, like his fellow filmmaker Michael Moore, suggested that Penn's was a satirical remark to actually shame those who harbor racist sentiments against Mexicans.
Sean Penn was making fun of ignorant white haters who want to keep Mexicans out of this country. #dontexplainsatire— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 23, 2015
His supporters, meanwhile, pointed out that if he were a racist, then he wouldn't be doing charity work in places like Haiti all year long.
Yes...an actor who spends the majority of his free time doing humanitarian work in third world countries is suddenly a racist. #SeanPenn— Ken Hastings (@HastingsPudding) February 24, 2015
While a single impulsive act doesn't necessarily make anyone a racist, Penn should've known that he was being watched by millions the world over and that any off the cuff remark could be easily misconstrued. For him to still crack a crass joke at the grandest of stages is just outright stupid. If he wanted to pull his pal's leg via a controversial joke, he should've done that backstage and not in front of those who are unaware of their relationship or the joke's context.