Who The Hell Is Sean Penn To Criticize Wyclef Jean?


Many Haitians seem thrilled that Wyclef Jean is officially running for President of Haiti. But never mind that — what does Sean Penn think?

Short answer: he does not like it at all! According to PopEater, he does not like Jean’s fancy cars:

I want to see someone who’s really, really willing to sacrifice for their country, and not just someone who I personally saw with vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that, in context, I felt was a very obscene demonstration.

He thinks Jean could be in the pocket of corporate interests:

I see in Wyclef Jean somebody who could well have been influenced by the promise of support of companies. I think Haiti is clearly vulnerable … There is a history of American interests coming in and underpaying people.

And he has not seen Jean around enough:

This is somebody who’s going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I’m very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent. For those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence.

True, Jean left the country when he was nine, but he is, in fact, Haitian. And while Penn has reportedly “been active in a Haiti survivor camp since the spring,” that hardly makes him “those of us in Haiti.” There are legitimate concerns about Jean’s candidacy — as the Guardian notes, the most troubling of these is the allegation that he funneled donations to his Yele Haiti charity into his own business ventures. But frankly, there’s something a little creepy about a white celebrity criticizing a black celebrity for being “vulgar” and ostentatious. And American actor Sean Penn is hardly the person to complain about “American interests coming in” to Haiti, or about famous people getting involved in politics.

Penn drew fire during Katrina when he went on a personal rescue mission, complete with photographer, in a leaky boat (though he did save some people as well). And while his commitment to philanthropy and liberal activism feels genuine, he also loves him some publicity — in 2002, he reportedly paid more than $50,000 to run an open letter to President Bush in the Washington Post. Penn has crafted an image that’s relatively rare in Hollywood, that of the foul-mouthed tough guy who’s also left-wing (see this 2005 USA Today profile, wherein he drinks bloody steak-juice and says, “I think it’s incumbent upon everyone to speak up. Not enough people do it. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll be criticized or called a Nazi”). But beneath all the bluster, he’s still a Hollywood actor, and he certainly knows less about war, politics, and disaster relief than people who have spent their careers working on these things.

Maybe Wyclef Jean isn’t qualified to be President of Haiti, but a fellow celebrity who’s spent less time there than he has is hardly the best judge of that. Instead, maybe we should listen to people who have spent their lives dealing with Haitian problems, long before the earthquake made these problems internationally hip. Like, you know, Haitians.

Wyclef Jean: President Of Haiti In Waiting Or Singer With Stars In His Eyes? [Guardian]
Sean Penn ‘Very Suspicious’ Of Wyclef Jean’s Haitian Presidential Bid [PopEater]
Wyclef Jean On His Decision To Run For The Presidency Of Haiti [WSJ Speakeasy Blog]
Sean Penn Criticizes Wyclef Jean For Haiti Presidential Bid: Should Jean Be Running? [ABC News]

Earlier: The Pros & Cons Of Wyclef’s Bid For Haitian Presidency

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