“We were not a rich African family. Everything was very basic. If you knew the way I lived then, and the way I’m living now…it’s day and night”- Djimon Hounsou
Djimon Hounsou grew up speaking French and several dialects of Goun, the Beninois language. The packed movie showings in his televisionless home village got him thinking about a career in show business. “Once you were in, you couldn’t move. Every space was filled with people. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an entertainer,” He told People Magazine
At the age of thirteen, Hounsou was sent to Lyons, France to live with an older brother and study to become a doctor. To the great disappointment of his family, he proved to be a lackadaisical student with no interest in medicine. “Being educated and being intelligent are two different things. I wanted a different life from the one my family planned,” Said Hounsou.
Leaving school at age twenty, Hounsou drifted to Paris after being thrown out of the house by his brother. Without a place to live or working papers that allowed him to get a job, Hounsou found himself sleeping on benches and bathing in fountains. “Going through people’s garbage at night to find a piece of bread to eat was not a pretty sight. I didn’t want any trouble with the police, so I kept a low profile,”
In 1990, Hounsou moved to Los Angeles, hoping to break into acting. He was always lucky and very quickly, he obtained his leading part in Without You I’m Nothing. The only problem was that he very badly spoke English. He fast filled this gap.
Two years later, Steven Spielberg spotted him and offered him the role of Cinque in Amistad. For this leading part, he was nominated for Golden Globes in the category the Best actor.
Djimon Hounsou has since then acted in over 30 Movies, nominated and won several awards including the Oscars and Golden Globes and is in the process of telling African stories from his own production company
“The first few years when I was learning English I had to think in French before I said the things I wanted to say in English. Now I dream mostly in English. Now it’s almost the reverse. I have to think in English now to write in French sometimes,”
In the United States, Hounsou found his race mattered much more, to both whites and other black people, than it had in France. “It never occurred to me that there was a way to behave ’black’ in order to be black… That was one of my first encounters with, I guess, the American lifestyle. It was difficult for me. Growing up in France, I was just a human being. I came here and they tell you, ’Hey, he behaves like a white boy.’ I didn’t know there was a way to be black. So that was shocking.
“Africa is my continent, it is where I first opened my eyes. I am the first African nominated for Oscars, thus I hope that will help me to make wonderful stories. I now have a production house, Belly Serpent Productions, that is developing projects and I am ready to invest a lot in Africa”- Djimon Hounsou