Why Djimon Hounsou ‘feels cheated’ by Hollywood and is yet to be paid ‘fairly’ for a film

Francis Akhalbey March 22, 2023
Djimon Hounsou said he's yet to be "fairly" paid for a film -- Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

There is no doubt Djimon Hounsou is a seasoned actor in Hollywood, having starred in several notable movies including Amistad, In America, Gladiator, and Blood Diamond. But the Beninese actor and model’s rise to superstardom did not come easy. Nevertheless, the 58-year-old defied the struggles he encountered while growing up in his native country, Benin, and pursued his passion. 

Born to a modest family in the West African nation’s capital city of Cotonou, Hounsou 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 and further his education. However, he dropped out of school and became homeless after falling out with his brother. 

He subsequently moved to Paris, sleeping on the streets and feeding on leftovers from garbage bins. Fortunately, his fortune turned after he was spotted by a fashion photographer, who introduced him to the iconic French designer, Thierry Mugler. Following a successful modeling career in France, Hounsou moved to the United States to pursue a career in acting.

Though the 58-year-old has since made a name for himself in Hollywood, he told The Guardian in a recent interview that he feels undervalued. He also suggested he would have won awards if the movies he featured in were released today. 

Hounsou’s breakout performance in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 Amistad movie was highly commended, but he did not receive any nominations from the Academy at the time. However, his co-star, Anthony Hopkins, earned a nomination for best-supporting actor. Responding to if being ignored was frustrating, the 58-year-old said, “Yeah. Maybe I was early. If my movies had come out today I definitely would have gotten an Oscar already.”

Hounsou eventually earned nominations during the course of his career, but he highlighted how he felt cheated after he received the best supporting actor nomination for Blood Diamond (2006). Though the film’s plot centered on Hounsou’s character, it was co-star Leonardo DiCaprio who was instead nominated for best actor. 

“I felt seriously cheated,” he said. “Today, we talk so much about the Oscars being so white, but I remember there was a time when I had no support at all: no support from my own people, no support from the media, from the industry itself. It felt like: ‘You should be happy that you’ve got nominated,’ and that’s that.”

Hounsou also told The Guardian that Black actors being offered minor roles in movies was a frustrating thing at the time. “I’m still struggling to try to make a dollar!” he said when he was asked if he feels that is still happening. 

“I’ve come up in the business with some people who are absolutely well off and have very little of my accolades. So I feel cheated, tremendously cheated, in terms of finances and in terms of the workload as well.”

Hounsou also explained that he takes minor roles because he wants to show that he is a “man of today” and “to prove that I can speak the language. I may not speak perfectly like an American with an American accent, but I don’t need to be all-American.”

He also added, “I’ve gone to studios for meetings and they’re like: ‘Wow, we felt like you just got off the boat and then went back [after Amistad]. We didn’t know you were here as a true actor.’ When you hear things like that, you can see that some people’s vision of you, or what you represent, is very limiting. But it is what it is. It’s up to me to redeem that.”

“I still have to prove why I need to get paid,” he said. “They always come at me with a complete low ball: ‘We only have this much for the role, but we love you so much and we really think you can bring so much.’”

“Viola Davis said it beautifully: she’s won an Oscar, she’s won an Emmy, she’s won a Tony and she still can’t get paid. Film after film, it’s a struggle. I have yet to meet the film that paid me fairly.”

But the actor said Hollywood has now started treating him fairly. “From time to time, they themselves make the point of saying: ‘We should give him more, he’s a little underappreciated.’ I think they recognize that themselves,” he said, before adding: “Hey, it’s the struggle I have to overcome!”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 22, 2023


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