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Djimon Hounsou: Black History Month and Recognizing Notable Black Immigrants and Refugees

By February 26, 2024No Comments

Djimon Hounsou

In honor of Black History Month, we’re recognizing the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of notable Black immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today, we focus on award-winning French-American model and actor, Djimon Hounsou.

Djimon Hounsou was born on April 24, 1964, in the Republic of Benin, formerly the Republic of Dahomey. At an early age, his parents (both cooks) moved 900 miles to the Ivory Coast (since renamed Cote d’Ivoire), leaving him to be raised by a brother. At 12 years old, he and another brother, Edmund, immigrated to France. His new beginnings brought struggles after he dropped out of school and started living on the streets. 

However, a random encounter with a photographer opened the doors to a meeting with legendary designer Thierry Mugler. By 1987, Hounsou established a modeling career in Paris. There, he collaborated with modeling legends such as Iman and Naomi Campbell. Three years later, he immigrated to the United States. 

At the age of 22, Hounsou arrived in Los Angeles. Despite speaking little English, he continued modeling while accepting work that included commercials, minor film roles, and dancing in music videos for musicians such as Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Paula Abdul. He used the money he earned to pay for acting and diction lessons.

In 1997, Hounsou caught a big break when he auditioned for Steven Spielberg’s historical drama Amistad alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins. Hounsou’s ability to speak in his native Goun dialect won him the job. He’s earned two Academy Award nominations for his roles in In America (2002) and Black Diamond (2006). Other notable movies Hounsou appeared in include multiple films within the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, A Quiet PlaceFurious 7Gladiator, and its upcoming 2024 sequel. 

Hounsou has also been nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe award. He became a naturalized US citizen in 2007. In 2019, he launched the Djimon Hounsou Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to strengthen Africa’s intergenerational identity and self-awareness and combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking. 

Others we are celebrating in honor of Black History Month: