"I'm very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed on to in great stridency and rage and without nuance," Penn said.
Sean Penn believes the "spirit" of the #MeToo movement is to "divide men and women."
While appearing on the "Today Show" Monday morning, the two-time Oscar winner slammed the movement against sexual harassment, calling it "salacious" and lacking "common sense."
Host Natalie Morales spoke to Penn and his female co-star Natascha McElhone about their new show "The First," a sci-fi series that chronicles Earth's first effort to send a crew to Mars. Morales asked whether they believed that the series had been "informed" by #MeToo because of the strong female characters in the show. Although McElhone agreed, Penn said that he hoped no part of it was guided by the movement.
"I'd like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo," Penn said. "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. This is a movement that was largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious."
Morales pressed Penn on what he meant by "receptacle of the salacious." Penn replied that we don't always know the truth.
"Well, we don't know what's a fact in many of the cases," he said. "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 said that women would claim that the movement is "uniting" women, rather than dividing them.
"I'm gonna say that women that I talk to, not in front of a camera, that I listen to, of all walks of life, 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's going to attack him for saying this, because of that," Penn said.
The "Milk" star stressed that he is very "suspicious" of #MeToo, which he claimed is too "black and white."
"I don't want it to be a trend, and I'm very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed on to in great stridency and rage and without nuance," Penn said. "And even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way, the nuance itself is attacked. I think it's too black and white. In most things that are very important, it's really good to just slow down."
Morales asked McElhone if they talked about the topic while on set. The actress attempted to explain Penn's criticism.
"We talked about it a great deal," she said. "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. 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."
Certainly many powerful voices in the entertainment industry -- both men and women -- would strongly disagree with Penn about the spirit and intention of the movement.