Sean Penn ‘Joke’ About Alejandro González Iñárritu at the 2015 Oscars Did Not Age Well

Actor Sean Penn got his acting career start in the 1970s on Little House on the Prairie, a TV show that his father Leo Penn directed. Over the decades, Penn has starred in numerous critically acclaimed films, including Mystic River, Milk, and Into the Wild. Those three movies got Penn nominated for numerous awards. But it was one of Penn’s recent appearances at an award show that raised eyebrows and stroked widespread criticism about racism, the intersection of politics and Hollywood, and immigration reform.

Sean Penn standing in front of a gray background
Sean Penn | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Penn has received numerous award nominations

RELATED: Maybe the 3rd Time’s the Charm for Sean Penn

Penn has had a prolific career, starring in more than 50 different Hollywood blockbusters and even working as a film director (1991’s The Indian Runner was the first movie he directed, and one of his most recent directorial features was 2016’s The Last Face). After taking a break from acting in the early 1990s, Penn returned to the screen in 1995’s Dead Man Walking. According to IMDb, that film earned Penn his first Academy Award nomination. The nod was in the category for best actor, and it wasn’t the only nomination he earned for the film.

Penn also got nominated for a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Chicago Film Critics Association Award, and many more. He won his first Academy Award for 2003’s Mystic River, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts Sciences invited him to be a voting member in 2004. Besides being able to vote on each year’s nominees for the Oscars, Penn has also presented at several Academy Awards. And his appearance at the 87th Academy Awards was not well-received by audiences. 

Penn presented an award at the 87th Academy Awards

RELATED: Donald Trump, Julianne Hough, and Other Celebrities Accused of Being Prejudiced

The award show took place in 2015 at Hollywood’s historic Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The show was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. Penn was brought on stage to present the Oscar for Best Picture. Nominated for the top award were eight films: Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, American Sniper, and Birdman. The latter movie won, but it was Penn’s lead-up to the announcement that caused media furor. “As he prepared to announce Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman as the film of the year, Penn made a reference to the Mexican director’s immigration status,” explains the Huffington Post. Turning to the audience, Penn said: “Who gave this son of a b*tch his green card?” 

Iñárritu had just become the second Latin American in the award show’s history to win an Oscar for Best Director, and Iñárritu was about to be honored again. But Penn’s immigration joke quickly changed the tone of the ceremony. “The 2015 Oscars were filled with uplifting stories, calls to action for ALS and Alzheimer’s, and a powerful reminder of the civil rights movement,” reports the Huffington Post. “But Sean Penn’s comment, right before announcing the Best Picture award at Sunday night’s ceremony, may have undone it all.”

Penn refused to apologize afterwards

RELATED: 10 Times the Oscars Got Political

After Penn’s immigration comment, the media asked Iñárritu what he thought about it. The director said he found it “hilarious,” reports Clevver News. On Penn’s part, the actor thought there was nothing wrong with what he said. “During a promotional tour for his upcoming film The Gunman, the 54-year-old actor told the Associated Press that he has ‘absolutely no apologies,'” reported the Los Angeles Times. Penn went on to say that “I’m always surprised by flagrant stupidity.”

Since Penn’s comments in 2015, the Academy Awards have continued to be criticized by outlets like Vox for lacking diversity. And in light of the broader political context, and recent anti-immigration rhetoric from American politicians, some people think that immigration jokes highlight deeper social problems. “That ‘Green Card’ quip was microcosmic of everything everyone hates about privileged folk who adopt the struggles of underprivileged folk,” write Vox’s Jermaine Spradley on Twitter.