Prolific character actor Djimon Hounsou, who hit it big in the 1997 Steven Spielberg epic Amistad, claims he still struggles to be recognized and has never been paid what he is worth in racist white Hollywood despite his more than 30-year career and multiple award nominations.
Hounsou, who first became a fashion model in the 1980s, broke into the acting business in 1989 in several music videos and moved on to a few walk on roles before quickly hitting it big in the 1997 Steven Spielberg epic Amistad. That was followed by a number of block busters such as Furious 7, and recent comic book films including Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Adam, and the newly released Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
But despite this successful career, Hounsou says that he is continuously underpaid and overlooked, and says that he feels that he has been unfairly deprived of awards for his work while his white co-stars continue to earn plaudits.
“I’m still struggling to try to make a dollar!” he said in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“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,” the 58-year-old actor said.
The actor, who was born in the small west African nation of Benin, says that he feels constantly slighted by the amount of money he is offered for his work.
“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,’” he said, adding, “Film after film, it’s a struggle. I have yet to meet the film that paid me fairly.”
He also says he feels “felt seriously cheated” by the quality of roles he is offered and pointed out he was relegated to portraying slaves time and again after Amistad.
He also took a jab at the black people in the industry for not supporting other black creatives until recently.
“Today, we talk so much about the Oscars being so white, but I remember there was a time where 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,” he exclaimed.
Then there are the times he felt ignored at award season. Even though he was highly praised for Amistad and was even nominated for awards for In America and Blood Diamond, it was his white co-stars who won the recognition when Anthony Hopkins and Leonardo DiCaprio were recognized ahead of him even though his characters were the main focus of some of these films.
Still, he closed the interview thanking the DC funivers of films for treating him a bit more fairly, and saying he does feel he is just starting to gain some respect in Hollywood. He also hopes he will be getting bigger roles after being in so many big pictures.
“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 insisted. “Hey, it’s the struggle I have to overcome!”
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