Shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbouring country in February 2022, Zelensky, who had given a high-profile address at that month’s Grammy Awards, was declined from doing the same at the Academy Awards in March.
The Academy has never offered a rationale; however, in a new interview with Variety, the Milk star, 63, claimed: “The Oscars producer thought, ‘Oh, he’s not light-hearted enough.’
“Well, guess what you got instead? Will Smith!” Penn said, referring to Smith’s infamous altercation with presenter Chris Rock that year.
The Independent has contacted the Academy for comment.
The Men In Black actor, 54, walked on stage and slapped Rock across the face for a joke he made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith went on to win the Best Acting Oscar for his lead role in King Richard.
“I don’t know Will Smith. I met him once,” Penn told Variety. “He seemed very nice when I met him. He was so f***ing good in King Richard.
“So why the f*** did you just spit on yourself and everybody else with this stupid f***ing thing? Why did I go to f***ing jail for what you just did? And you’re still sitting there? Why are you guys standing and applauding his worst moment as a person?”
Penn was jailed for 33 days in 1987 for punching film extra Jeffrey Klein on the set of the crime-action movie Colors.
“This f***ing bulls*** wouldn’t have happened with Zelensky,” the actor continued. “Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence. It never would have happened.”
The Carlitos Way actor has been a prominent voice speaking out against Russia, previously urging the US to “invest everything” into supporting Ukraine and its people, or lose sight of “what America hoped to be”.
Penn was forced to flee Ukraine last year while he was filming a Vice documentary about the invasion.
“It’s not unique that people are generally at their best in the worst of times,” Penn said in a 2022 interview with The Independent. “But it is unique that since 2014 [the time of the Maidan revolution, in which the president of Ukraine was ousted as he pursued closer ties to Russia amid large-scale demonstrations] there has been this increasing recognition of the precious value of community.”
Of the Ukrainian civilians who have stood up to Russian tanks, Penn said: “They’ve tasted freedom. They’re not going to let up.”