A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Djimon Hounsou: No Oscar but Always a Winner
By Frankie Edozien

The Oscars in 2007 will be remembered for the strong number of nominations that came to people of color. Five of the major acting categories included black actors with Benin's native son Djimon Hounsou in that elite group.

"It's not the first time but I'm still trembling. I'm emotionally charged," he said as he walked up the Red Carpet to the Kodak Theater for the 79th Annual Academy Awards presentation.

Just before they announced the winner of his category, Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine, Hounsou put his head down as if in prayer or to wipe the nervous sweat off his shining bald head.Had the Cotonou-born actor won for his bravura performance of a father trying to reclaim his family in the movie Blood Diamond, it would have been the first for a black continental African actor- South African Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Monster (2004).

Still his best supporting actor nomination is especially sweet in a year his fellow Black thespians made history by achieving top award nominations and wins: Forest Whitaker's Best Actor win for The Last King of Scotland; Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness, nomination for Best Actor; Eddie Murphy's nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Dreamgirls; and Jennifer Hudson who won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Dreamgirls. But Hounsou, 42, has been here before. His first Academy Award nomination was for In America, in 2002.

Blood Diamond, which opened late last year, traces the deadly trail of conflict diamonds and the problems that came with them in Sierra Leone in years past. It also highlighted the problem of child soldiers.

"Well, you know, for me personally, this is probably the most profound and powerful human story out of Africa. And then given the fact that I'm a native of, you know, of the continent," Hounsou told the Today Show last year.

"Although I was raised in Europe and I still go back to Africa and cross so many conflict zones--and so in that sense and also the fact that it's also touching so many other aspects of issues, you know, enveloping the continent of Africa, the child--issues of child soldiers," he added.

Hounsou left Benin Republic when he was just 13 emigrating to Paris where at some point he ended up on the streets. His 6-foot-2 gleaming physique attracted the attention of fashion designer Thierry Mugler who used him as a model.Modeling launched his career on the screen. Sixteen years ago, he decamped Paris for Los Angeles and began doing commercials.

He delivered a memorable performance in Amistad with Steven Spielberg. Then he burned up television screens dancing in Janet Jackson's video for Love Will Never Do Without You. Roles followed on television and on screen including Gladiator, Lara Croft: Cradle of Life, Beauty Shop, Constantine and more.

This AFRican Magazine cover-boy has been proudly representing the continent with grace and dignity and doing what Africans do in America. Work!

He has said that "America has this understanding of Africans that plays like National Geographic: a bunch of Negroes with loincloths running around the plain fields of Africa chasing gazelles. Meanwhile, we have Africans and African-Americans, contemporary men, with great stories, great integrity, great heroes and nobody wants to see or hear about those African heroes and those African-American heroes. One day, I will be in a position to play those great human beings on-screen."

Hounsou may not have taken home the golden statuette, but for his two nominations and his work in film and television, he remains a winner among us.

Without You I'm Nothing (1990)
Unlawful Entry (1992)
Stargate (1994)
The Small Hours (1997)
Amistad (1997)
Ill Gotten Gains (1997)
Deep Rising (1998)
Gladiator (2000)
The Tag (2001)
Dead Weight (2002)
The Four Feathers (2002)
In America (2002)
Heroes (2002) (short subject)
Biker Boyz (2003)
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Blueberry (2004)
Constantine (2005)
Beauty Shop (2005)
Blood Diamond (2006)
Eragon (2006)
The Island (2005)
The Trunk (2007)