Back to Africa Check

No, US actor Sean Penn didn’t film fake videos of the invasion of Ukraine in March 2022 – no proof anyone has

IN SHORT: We’ve seen plenty of outlandish claims about the war between Russia and Ukraine on social media. But one claiming actor Sean Penn was involved in faking the entire conflict may take the cake – and is certainly also false.

In February 2022, Russia invaded its neighbour Ukraine, beginning a war which at time of writing is still ongoing.

Misinformation about the war has been rife, and Africa Check has even debunked false claims that the conflict has been entirely fabricated.

A video has since been shared on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, including in South Africa, with new claims that footage of the war in Ukraine is staged. Some users either suggest or claim outright that this has been done in part by US actor and filmmaker Sean Penn.

The video shows a director shouting “Action!” before a crowd of shouting runs towards the camera.

But was this film crew really filming staged footage of the war in Ukraine?


Behind the scenes footage almost a decade old, and filmed in Belfast

As some social media users have pointed out, this video was filmed in the city of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and shared online nearly a decade before the invasion of Ukraine.

The video was originally uploaded to YouTube in 2013, with the title Invasion Planet Earth BTS run for your life Birmingham. It claims to show behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of the 2019 science fiction film Invasion Planet Earth, directed by British filmmaker Simon Cox.

And yes, a panicked crowd can be seen running away from computer-generated alien spaceships in trailers for the film.

Google Street View images confirm that the footage was filmed in Birmingham’s Victoria Square. Details like the distinctive Birmingham City Council building, and the UK flag outside it, are clearly visible in the video.

The area is also seen in one of the video diaries shared by Cox at a point in the filming when the working title for Invasion Planet Earth was still using Kaleidoscope Man.

The footage is clearly much older than the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and was shot for a science fiction film, not as part of a disinformation campaign.

Sean Penn subject of several conspiracy theories about war in Ukraine

As fact-checking organisation PolitiFact detailed in March 2022, a bizarre conspiracy theory has sprung up because Sean Penn visited Ukraine to film a documentary about the Russian invasion.

PolitiFact explains that the conspiracy takes advantage of a slightly misleading fact. A 24 February Facebook post by the office of the Ukrainian president made reference to Penn visiting Ukraine in November 2021, months before the February 2022 invasion.

However, this isn’t evidence Penn was preparing for a choreographed invasion. News reports written at the time of Penn’s November 2021 visit make it clear that the documentary was meant to be about what was then only a “proxy war” between the two countries.

The Invasion Planet Earth footage was obviously not filmed by Penn, and there is no evidence to suggest that he has filmed staged footage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.