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Sean Penn’s “Superpower”: A Glimpse into Ukraine’s Struggle for Democracy

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In a surprising turn of events, Academy Award winner Sean Penn found himself at the epicenter of a geopolitical crisis. What was initially meant to be a lighthearted documentary about Ukraine’s actor-turned-president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, quickly transformed into a powerful portrayal of the country’s fight for democracy in the face of Russian aggression. Penn’s latest film, “Superpower,” provides a unique perspective on the ongoing conflict and sheds light on the resilience and unity of the Ukrainian people.

“Superpower” | Official Trailer

A Chance Encounter

Penn’s journey into the heart of Ukraine began with a chance encounter with President Zelenskyy. The two crossed paths during a Zoom meeting, long before the Russian invasion dominated international headlines. Little did they know that their initial meeting would mark the beginning of a remarkable collaboration that would capture the world’s attention.

From Light-hearted to War-torn

Originally envisioning a light-hearted portrayal of Zelenskyy, Penn’s plans for the documentary were abruptly disrupted by the invasion. As the crisis unfolded, Penn recognized the urgency and significance of documenting the unfolding events and their impact on Ukraine’s democracy. The film’s focus shifted from comedy to tragedy, from laughter to resilience.

A Meeting in the Midst of Chaos

Despite the escalating conflict, Penn and Zelenskyy finally managed to meet in person on February 23, 2022. The meeting, held off-camera, provided a unique opportunity for the two men to connect on a personal level, away from the prying eyes of the media. Little did they know that their encounter would take place on the eve of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.

Filming Under Fire

In a testament to Zelenskyy’s commitment and the power of storytelling, the decision was made to proceed with filming the next day, despite the chaos unfolding around them. The resilience and determination demonstrated by Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people became a central theme of the documentary. Their unwavering spirit in the face of adversity inspired Penn and his team throughout the filming process.

Seven Trips to Ukraine

Penn’s dedication to capturing the essence of the Ukrainian struggle led him to make seven trips to the country. Each visit offered a deeper understanding of the Ukrainian people’s unwavering commitment to their democracy. Penn’s experiences in Ukraine left an indelible mark on him, as he witnessed firsthand the tight-knit community and unity that exemplified the best aspirations of democracy.

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Communicating Through Film

When asked why Zelenskyy agreed to participate in the documentary during such a tumultuous time, Penn emphasized the importance of communication in modern warfare. He believed that Zelenskyy recognized the power of film as a tool for fighting the war on multiple levels. By sharing their story with the world, Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people hoped to garner support and understanding from international audiences.

The Unity of Ukraine

Penn’s frequent visits to Ukraine allowed him to witness the unity and community spirit that had eluded him elsewhere. In Ukraine, he found a civil democracy that surpassed any he had encountered before. The tight-knit community and unwavering resolve of the Ukrainian people became a source of inspiration for Penn. He realized that the aspirations of democracy embodied in Ukraine were a reflection of the best that humanity had to offer.

Context for American Audiences

With the release of “Superpower” on Paramount+, Penn hopes to provide American audiences with the context necessary to understand the significance of Ukraine’s struggle. The film delves into the complexities of the conflict, highlighting the interconnectedness of global politics and the potential impact on democracy worldwide. Penn emphasizes that supporting Ukraine is not merely an investment in another country but a crucial investment in the future of democracy itself.


Sean Penn’s documentary, “Superpower,” offers a unique perspective on Ukraine’s fight for democracy in the face of Russian aggression. What began as a lighthearted exploration of President Zelenskyy’s journey evolved into a powerful portrayal of the resilience and unity of the Ukrainian people. Penn’s deep dive into the heart of the conflict serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of global events and the importance of supporting democracies in their fight for freedom. As audiences around the world bear witness to the struggles and triumphs of Ukraine, they are confronted with the realization that the fate of democracy rests in their hands.


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