Actors Ben Stiller and Sean Penn have been banned from Russia by the Russian foreign ministry. Stiller is the star of such films as Zoolander and Meet The Parents, as well as the director of shows like Escape at Dannemora and the Apple TV+ series Severance. Penn is the Oscar-winning actor of Mystic River and Milk, as well as the director of films like Into The Wild and Flag Day. Penn is currently appearing with Julia Roberts in the series Gaslit, while Stiller has focused more on behind-the-camera work as a director and producer.
In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, which caused thousands of deaths and spurred an international response condemning Russia’s actions. Stiller and Penn have been a part of that response in their own ways, with both actors visiting Ukraine and speaking with Ukrainian President Zelensky about the conflict. Penn went to Ukraine to make a documentary about the conflict, later pleading for U.S involvement in the conflict, saying, “Ukraine is the tip of the spear for the democratic embrace of dreams. If we allow it to fight alone, our soul as America is lost.” Stiller visited Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Kyiv, acting as a goodwill ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency, and was taken with Zelensky and the Ukrainian people’s resiliency, saying, “[Zelensky’s] incredible sense of how he has risen to the moment and offered his people leadership and true resolve to get through this awful situation.”
The Russian foreign ministry has banned Stiller and Penn from the country, citing the “principle of reciprocity.” Stiller and Penn were added to a list of 25 “high-ranking officials, representatives of the business and expert communities, as well as cultural figures” that seemingly negatively impacted Russia’s reputation per their own guidelines. The real reason comes down to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been condemned by the international community and imposed a record number of sanctions on the former Soviet Union. The Russian foreign ministry additionally stated their reasons for the list, saying:
“The hostile actions of the American authorities, which continue to follow a Russophobic course, destroying bilateral ties and escalating confrontation between Russia and the United States, will continue to be resolutely rebuffed.”
Penn is no stranger to controversy when it comes to international affairs, let alone issues in the United States, as he’s been an activist throughout his life. The actor/director has continuously been involved in world affairs, including Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, and numerous political movements. Stiller has been less outward in his activism, but his part as a UN ambassador in Ukraine was enough to fan the flames of his current ban.
It’s not uncommon for actors/filmmakers to get involved in high-profile international causes and activism, as it’s been the case for as long as Hollywood has existed. Politics have always been a part of Hollywood, from major studios to individual talent, for better or worse. In the case of Penn and Stiller’s Russia bans, it stems from a place of good, as both actors (and many more, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger) are attempting to shine a light on the actions and repercussions of the Ukraine invasion, including the tremendous loss of life and displacement that have followed. It’s likely that Sean Penn and Ben Stiller won’t be the last names added to Russia’s “list” so long as their war on Ukraine continues.