Djimon Gaston Hounsou is a Beninese actor and model, who gained widespread recognition for his role as Cinqué in the Steven Spielberg film Amistad.
Born April 24, 1964, to Pierre Hounsou, a cook, and Albertine, Hounsou defied the struggles encountered whilst growing up and pursued his passion. It paid off; it landed him a modeling and acting career worth around $10 million.
Hounsou’s new fame and widespread recognition did not come by easy. Born into an impoverished family in Cotonou, Benin, he followed the myriads of Africans leaving the continent for greener pastures in Europe and America.
He traveled to Lyon, France, at the age of 13 to live with his brother with the hope of pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor in future. However, he dropped out of school to the chagrin of his brother, who threw him out as a result. Hounsou became homeless and moved to Paris, sleeping on the streets and feeding on the leftovers in garbage bins.
“Being educated and being intelligent are two different things,” Hounsou once said. “I thought I was smart enough… and I wanted to be an entertainer. I stopped going to school as a way of saying I was matured, a way of saying I was going to choose who I was going to become.”
Hounsou’s incredible resilience would propel him to stardom after he was spotted by a fashion photographer who introduced him to the iconic French designer, Thierry Mugler.
He would leave Paris for New York in 1990 as one of the most popular models on the Paris runway. Hounsou’s ingenuity on the runway caught the eye of David Fincher, who would feature him in three music videos he directed.
Those appearances in the music videos attracted the curiosity of celebrity photographer Herb Ritts, who worked with him on several projects including posing for Ritts’ book: Men, and Women, and Love Will Never Do Without You and a Janet Jackson musical video.
In that same year, Hounsou’s acting career began, appearing in the film ‘Without You, I’m Nothing’ and played a non-speaking role because he could not speak English.
Hounsou continued to play minor roles in movies and when he could speak English he was thrust into the center stage in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad.
Hounsou’s portrayal of Cinque in the 1997 blockbuster drew him positive reviews. He got two Oscar nominations for his roles in ‘In America’ and ‘Blood Diamond’.
Hounsou continues to star in major movies, like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘Seventh Son’ and ‘Furious 7’ and in 2007 he was named Calvin Klein underwear model.
He got married to celebrity model and fashionista, Kimora Lee Russell at a traditional ceremony in his native Benin in the summer of 2008 and together they have a son, Kenzo, who was born in 2009.
As a passionate campaigner against climate change, Hounsou opened the UN General Assembly on Climate Change in New York, 2009 with a gripping speech.