By Melissa Camacho,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Haiti relief docu has cursing, smoking, disturbing images.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
The larger message is about how everyone, no matter who they are, can make a big difference when it comes to helping others and finding solutions to disastrous situations.
Positive Role Models
Sean Penn isn’t perfect, and he sometimes comes across as arrogant, but he is motivated by wanting to make a difference in the world. The work that he and his organization did, and continue to do, in Haiti and around the world is positive and life-saving.
Violence & Scariness
Archived security camera images of buildings coming down (sometimes on people) during the earthquake, as well as people begging for help from the ruins. Adults and children with major, bloody injuries, crying and screaming in pain, and corpses are also visible in this footage. Brief images of a young Sean Penn getting into fights with paparazzi. Quick references to pedophiles.
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Expect to hear curses like "s--t" and "f--k."
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Products & Purchases
Labels and brands of donated goods are sometimes visible. Scenes from Penn’s films are briefly shown. It's a promotional vehicle for Penn's organization CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort).
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Penn is shown constantly smoking cigarettes. Jokes are made about Hollywood drug use, but much of the discussion is about getting morphine and other medications to Haiti. Drunken behavior is briefly discussed.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Citizen Penn is a documentary about actor and activist Sean Penn and a small group of volunteers who go to Haiti and provided long-term disaster relief aid to Haitians after a massive earthquake. The overall message is positive (great examples of teamwork and compassion) and shows how they provided help to people on the ground. It does also feature archive footage of buildings falling, and people who were trapped, injured, or dead, and horrific stories of suffering that will be difficult for sensitive viewers to watch. There’s also lots of cursing (expect "s--t" and "f--k"), some references to drinking, and Penn is a chain smoker. Scenes from Penn’s films and other activities are briefly shown.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
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What's the Story?
CITIZEN PENN is a documentary that chronicles the life-saving relief work that actor and activist Sean Penn did on the ground in Haiti after it was devastated by a natural disaster. On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake struck the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, killing 230,000 people, injuring at least another 300,000, and destroying 90% of capital Port au Prince’s general infrastructure. Penn quickly created the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, and he, along with a team of volunteers, set up a long-term base in the country to bring in and coordinate aid and relief to Haitians. Ten years later, Penn's organization has evolved into the global disaster relief organization CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), which assists communities around the world, including the United States, with relief assistance and redevelopment support.
Is It Any Good?
Though the documentary can feel self-aggrandizing and an attempt to shift negative perceptions of Penn's personal style of activism, his dedication to helping Haiti is obviously not a publicity stunt. Much of Citizen Penn's narrative is about how Penn, who had done limited disaster relief work in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, was able to coordinate efforts by circumventing government politics and bureaucracy. He reached out directly to individuals and exploited some controversial connections, like the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, to get the medicines, food, supplies, and expertise needed on the ground. It also highlights how he strategically used self-publicity, with the help of journalist Anderson Cooper, to raise funds to keep their efforts going.
The documentary successfully reveals in detail the ways that Penn and his team were able to help so many people, as well as and the continued positive impact the organization’s development projects continue to have in Haiti. It also highlights how, over a decade later, CORE continues to provide both immediate global disaster relief and Stateside support. This not only helps Penn seem a little less arrogant, but also shows viewers how one imperfect person without the answers can work hard to find concrete, positive solutions to what may appear to be insurmountable problems.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how people respond when they see news footage of other countries, and their citizens, in crisis. What are some of the ways we can immediately help communities when disaster strikes them, even if we don’t have a lot of money or connections to do so? Is there anything we shouldn’t do?
Citizen Penn reveals how Sean Penn didn't want to make his celebrity status central to his work in Haiti, but used media as a way to publicize and get support for their work while they were there. Would a non-celebrity have been able to do the same? Are there other celebrities who strategically use their celebrity status to promote their philanthropy or humanitarian work?
- Premiere date: May 6, 2021
- Cast: Sean Penn
- Network: Discovery+
- Genre: Reality TV
- Topics: Activism, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: November 12, 2021
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