Sean Penn says spirit of much of #MeToo movement is to 'divide men and women'

Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn has opened up about the #MeToo movement, saying it divides men and women and "it's too black and white."

Penn, 58, and actress Natascha McElhone, 48, who co-star in the new Hulu show "The First" about a dangerous mission to Mars, had a frank discussion about the movement empowering women, with Natalie Morales on TODAY Monday.

The new show, set in the year 2030, features a host of strong female characters, including three of the five astronauts and the president of the United States. McElhone plays an unapologetic visionary overseeing the mission, a character she said is informed by the #MeToo movement.

"Yeah, and for me in life, that's not unusual,'' she said. "I don't see that as aberrant. I get that in TV and in a lot of our media women haven't been depicted in that way, and I find that deeply disturbing."

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Sean Penn out and about
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Sean Penn out and about
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Actor and author Sean Penn discusses his new book 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff: A Novel' at Barnes & Noble Union Square on March 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 26: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Sean Penn during Monday's March 26, 2018 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 06: Sean Penn attends the SEAN PENN J/P HRO GALA: A Gala Dinner to Benefit J/P Haitian Relief Organization and a Coalition of Disaster Relief Organizations at Milk Studios on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn attend the 7th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organization on January 6, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for J/P HRO Gala)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Sean Penn speaks onstage during the 7th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organization on January 6, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for J/P HRO Gala)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Laird Hamilton and Sean Penn attend the Los Angeles premiere of 'Take Every Wave' at ArcLight Cinemas on September 27, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for IFC Films )
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 22: Actress Sean Penn is seen walking inSoho on August 22, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 23: Sean Penn is seen on August 23, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Kamau/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 08: Actor Sean Penn attends the 44th Chaplin Award Gala at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Sean Penn (L) and Robert De Niro backstage during the 44th Chaplin Award Gala at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Actor Sean Penn speaks onstage during the 44th Chaplin Award Gala at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Actor Sean Penn backstage during the 44th Chaplin Award Gala at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Sean Penn (L) and Damien Rice attend the Sean Penn & Friends Haiti Takes Root Benefit Dinner and Auction Supporting J/P Haitian Relief Organization, at Sotheby's on May 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Rebecca Smeyne/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Actor Sean Penn attends Sean Penn & Friends HAITI TAKES ROOT: A Benefit Dinner & Auction to Reforest & Rebuild Haiti to Support J/P Haitian Relief Organization at Sotheby's on May 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for J/P Haitian Relief Organization )
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Sean Penn attends The Sean Penn & Friends Haiti Takes Root benefit dinner and auction supporting J/P Haitian Relief Organization at Sotheby's on May 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Actor Sean Penn attends the MOCA Gala 2017 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on April 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: (L-R) Actress/model Dylan Penn, co-host Sean Penn, and actor Hopper Penn attend the 6th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala Benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organizationat Montage Hotel on January 7, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for J/P Haitian Relief Organization )
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Co-host Sean Penn speaks onstage during the 6th Annual Sean Penn & Friends HAITI RISING Gala Benefiting J/P Haitian Relief Organizationat Montage Hotel on January 7, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for J/P Haitian Relief Organization )
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Penn disagreed with that assessment.

"I'd like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo,'' he 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."

Natalie asked him what he meant by "receptacle of the salacious."

"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."

Natalie disagreed, saying "Women would say it's uniting women."

Penn expanded on his criticisms of the movement.

"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."

"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. And even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way, the nuance itself is attacked."

Penn believes that lack of gradation is a problem.

35 PHOTOS
Women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault
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Women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault
Kadian Noble, has filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein in New York federal court accusing the movie producer of sex trafficking by inviting her to a hotel room in France and sexually assaulting her.
Paz de la Huerta, who stars on HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire,' claims Harvey Weinstein raped her on two separate occasions in 2010: "I was in no state. I was so terrified of him," she told Vanity Fair. "I did say no, and when he was on top of me, I said, 'I don't want to do this' ... It was disgusting. He's like a pig."
British actress Lysette Anthony has publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her in her home in the late 1980s.
Amber Anderson said Harvey Weinstein 'behaved inappropriately' and bragged about other actresses he had 'helped' in exchange for sexual favors.
Natassia Malthe has accused Weinstein of raping her in a hotel room. On a separate occasion, after she was assured that Weinstein would not come onto her, she was allegedly escorted to Weinstein's hotel room by an assistant. In the room was another woman, who performed oral sex on Weinstein whil he asked Malthe to join.
Lupita Nyong'o wrote a detailed essay for the New York Times recounting multiple incidents with Weinstein, including an evening during which he asked her to give him a nude massage while his family was in the same home.
Marisa Coughlan said that she planned to meet Weinstein for a meeting at his hotel. Instead, he requested a massage.

Heather Graham said Weinstein told her he had an agreement with his wife that allowed him to sleep with whomever he wants. He then asked him to meet her to discuss a film project at his hotel, falsely telling her that her friend would also be present. She declined.

French actress Judith Godreche has accused Weinstein of inappropriately pressing up against her, trying to remove her sweater and asking for a massage.

Lauren Holly said that during a seemingly normal meeting with Weinstein to discuss a project, he began disrobing, got into the shower, and went to the bathroom while continuing to converse with her. He then allegedly asked her for a massage. She fled. 
Angie Everhart said that she was sleeping in her own cabin on a yacht when Harvey Weinstein entered, blocked the door and began masturbating. He told her not to tell anyone, but she "told everyone," including many actors and producers. In response, most told her that it was just Harvey being Harvey. In an interview with TMZ, she emphasized that anyone in the industry who knew Harvey at all knew that he regularly did things like what he allegedly did to her.
Kate Beckinsale has accused Harvey Weinstein of coming onto her in his hotel room when she was 17 years old.
Tara Subkoff said that in the 1990s, on the same day that she was offered a major movie role, she met Harvey Weinstein at a party. He allegedly made her sit on his lap while he had an erection. He then told her that if he did not do certain sexual things, she would not get the role that she'd already been offered. She declined. Afterward, she said, her "reputation was ruined by false gossip" and she found it near impossible to book roles.
Minka Kelly said that Harvey Weinstein offered her a lavish lifestyle in exchange for being his extramarital girlfriend. She declined.
Gwyneth Paltrow told the New York Times that Harvey Weinstein asked her for a massage in his hotel suite. After she told then-boyfriend Brad Pitt, Pitt confronted him, leading Weinstein to contact Paltrow and "scream" at her, she said.
Asia Argento has accused Weinstein of raping her in his hotel room when she was 21. She first reluctantly agreed to give him a massage, and then he forcibly performed oral sex on her. During subsequent encounters, she had consensual sexual relations with him due to fear that he would otherwise ruin her career.
Rose McGowan has publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of rape. In October 2016, she tweeted reference to a studio head raping her. In October 2017, in a tweet to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, McGowan referred to Weinstein by name while repeating her rape accusation. The alleged incident took place in the 1990s and resulted in a financial settlement.
Cara Delevingne has accused Harvey Weinstein of attempting to coerce her into kissing another woman in his hotel room. She had just begun her acting career and believed they were meeting just to finalize talks for a film role.
Angelina Jolie said she had a "bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth" and refused to work with him subsequently.
Jessica Barth has accused Harvey Weinstein of demanding that she get naked and give him a massage.
Emma de Caunes has accused Harvey Weinstein of unexpectedly getting naked and demanding that she lie down as other women had supposedly done before her.
Lauren Sivan has accused Harvey Weinstein of cornering her in a public space and masturbating to completion in front of her.
Mira Sorvino, seen here at a Weinstein Co. event in January 2017, said that after refusing Harvey Weinstein's advances, he dissuaded others in the industry from hiring her.
Ambra Battilana has accused Harvey Weinstein of groping her breasts and reaching under her skirt. She went to the NYPD and then conducted a sting operation, the audio of which was published by the New Yorker. In the audio, Weinstein can be heard attempting to coerce her to enter his hotel room.
Louisette Geiss has accused Harvey Weinstein of luring her to his hotel room after assuring her he wouldn't hit on her. He then disrobed and repeatedly asked her to watch him masturbate, telling her he would produce her screenplay if she did.
Emily Nestor (far right), a former Weinstein Co. employee, has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment.
Rosanna Arquette has accused Harvey Weinstein of dissuading others from hiring her after she rejected his sexual advances.
Rose McGowan has publicly accused Weinstein of sexual harassment. She has also accused others in the industry of knowing of Weinstein's misconduct and either actively or passively hiding it.
Ashley Judd has publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of asking her for a massage and then asking her to watch him shower.
Florence Darel has accused Harvey Weinstein of coming onto her in a hotel suite in 1996 while his wife was in the room next door.
Zoe Brock (left, in 2004) has accused Weinstein of getting naked and chasing her around a hotel room after she refused to give him a massage.
Katherine Kendall (right, in 2006) has accused Harvey Weinstein of disrobing and asking for a massage in his apartment after a movie screening, telling her that "everybody does it." He then asked her to at least show him her breasts, which she refused.
Romola Garai has accused Harvey Weinstein of making her feel "violated" when he watched her audition wearing only a bathrobe in his hotel room.
Lea Seydoux has accused Harvey Weinstein of forcibly trying to kiss her on the lips in 2012.
Claire Forlani said she "escaped" Harvey Weinstein on five occasions. He allegedly told her about all the actresses he had slept with and how he had in turn established their careers. He also attempted to get her to give him a massage.
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"I think it's too black and white,'' he said. "In most things that are very important, it's really good to just slow down."

It remains a regular topic at many workplaces, including the set of "The First."

"We talked about it a great deal,'' McElhone 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."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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