“Africa is my continent. It is where I opened my eyes.”
Djimon Gaston Hounsou was born the fifth child to a cook – Pierre Hounsou and his wife Albertine on the 24th of April 1964 in Cotonou, in the Republic of Benin, West Africa. He arrived Lyon, France at the age of 13 to live with his brother and get a good education with his family hoping he would become a doctor someday. However, his brother threw him out when he dropped out of school and he drifted off to Paris, living on the streets homeless and rummaging through garbage bins to find something to eat.
Blessed with a well-built body, Djimon Hounsou was introduced to the iconic French Designer, Thierry Mugler by a fashion photographer who had spotted him. By the time Djimon moved to the US in 1990, he had become one of the most popular models on the Paris runway and was good enough to be cast in three musical videos directed by David Fincher, based on his work with Mugler.
Following his appearances in the musical videos directed by Fincher, he caught the attention of celebrity photographer Herb Ritts who he worked with on several projects including posing for Ritts’ book, Men, and Women, and Love Will Never Do Without You, a Janet Jackson musical video directed by Ritts.
In 1990, he made his first film appearance in Without You I’m Nothing, playing a silent role largely due to the fact that he could not yet speak English. Small roles in a couple of movies and TV series followed, but it was not until his performance in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad that he was thrust into center stage as a great actor earning critical acclaims for his portrayal of Cinque in the 1997 blockbuster.
In addition to several awards over his acting career, he has earned two Oscar nominations for his roles in In America and Blood Diamond, making him one of the few Africans to be so recognized. Over the years, he continues to star in major movies, the most recent being, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Seventh Son (2015) and Furious 7 (2015).
Djimon was named Calvin Klein underwear model in 2007.
In the summer of 2008, he got married to celebrity model and fashionista, Kimora Lee Russell at a traditional ceremony in his native Benin with his family in attendance.
They separated however in 2012, although the relationship produced a son, Kenzo who was born in 2009.
The two-time Oscar nominee is a staunch supporter of Oxfam work in the US. In 2005 he travelled to Mali for the Oxfam Make Trade Fair campaign where he met with local cotton farmers. As part of the fight against climate change, Djimon opened the UN General Assembly on Climate Change in New York, 2009 with a compelling speech.
From a young vagrant scavenging food in trash cans, Djimon Gaston Hounsou has climbed the ladder of success to become a successful model, accomplished actor and vocal campaigner for a better world.
Did You Know?
- Djimon Gaston Hounsou was born in Cotonou on April 24, 1964.
- Encouraged by his parents, he arrived Lyon at the age of 13 to join his brother with the hope of getting a good education and train as a doctor.
- His brother kicked him out of the house when he dropped out of school, and he wandered off to Paris.
- After hooking up with Thierry Mugler, he was spotted and cast in: Steve Winwood’s Roll With It, Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, and Madonna’s Express Yourself, all musical videos directed by David Fincher.
- In his first movie appearance, he played a non-speaking role in Sandra Bernhard’s Without You I’m Nothing (1990), because he could not speak English.
- He later learnt English from watching television.
Afro Tourism salutes this pride of Africa, City Icon, living legend and national hero, Djimon Gaston Hounsou!
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