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Terrence Howard, Sean Penn, and Why We Celebrate Men Who Abuse Women

Have you seen the hit show Empire? In many ways, it’s an incredible show, with strong female lead characters (especially Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon) and a dedication to address issues such as homophobia and mental illness. Yet for all of that, there is one major reason to not watch this show…one of its main characters, Lucious Lyon, is a sexist, homophobic abusive man, who happens to be played by an actor (Terrence Howard) with a long history of abusing women. The creator of the show, Lee Daniels, has defended Howard, comparing him to Sean Penn and Marlon Brando and implying that race is the reason the media is questioning Howard’s role on the show. While Daniels has a valid point about racism in Hollywood and beyond, it does not change the fact that Howard is a serial domestic abuser. We should be questioning why he is so celebrated when even he admits to his abuse — not saying that it doesn’t matter because other people do it, too. Actor Sean Penn filed a 10 million dollar defamation lawsuit against Daniels for comparing him to Howard, because — even though he is alleged to have physically and sexually abused his ex-wife Madonna and has a history of violence against photographers, he thinks that the comparison to Howard is unfair.

All of this brings up a broader point: when it comes to our entertainers, why are we so tolerant of abuse against women? From football stars to actors to musicians, there are far too many celebrated entertainers with a serious history of violence towards women. It wasn’t until more than 40 women had accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them that people began to turn against him. And directors Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still venerated despite their own troubling histories of rape and sexual assault allegations. Our society clearly has an issue, not just with violence, but with the fact that we are so quick to sweep allegations of sexual and physical abuse against women under the rug — especially if it involves a favorite singer, actor or athlete. When people who commit these crimes are given multi-million dollar contracts, awards, and starring roles in movies or television shows, it sends the message that domestic violence and sexual assault just aren’t important — at least not compared with our own entertainment.

It’s time to say that enough is enough. While the average person cannot control casting decisions or the starting lineup, we can show our disapproval of these choices through our own decisions. Don’t support sports teams that retain abusers on the roster, don’t watch television shows that star admitted domestic abusers, and don’t buy music or watch movies made by men who have a history of violence against women. Send the message that domestic and sexual violence is not acceptable to you, and that you will not support any form of entertainment where it is tolerated. Take a stand, and be the change. Together, we can make a difference!

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