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The two-time Oscar-winning actor asked the audience: "Who gave this son of a b***h a green card?" before revealing "Birdman" had triumphed as best picture. The movie was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who was also honored in that category.
The Latin Times ran an opinion piece about the incident under the headline: "Calm Down People: It Was A Joke Between Sean Penn And Alejandro G. Iñárritu!"
But many people were outraged by the gag.
"The problem w Sean Penn's statement is that it limits what #Latinos are entitled to — certainly nothing which belongs to whites," Entertainment Weekly reporter Nina Terrero wrote on Twitter.
Actor Mario Lopez added: "'Who gave this guy a green card?' Sean Penn talking about a Mexican dude to a room full of British & Australian people..."