Djimon Housou is getting candid about the systemic problems in Hollywood.
The actor opened up in a new interview, while promoting his most recent film, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, noting that, despite Oscar-nominated starring roles in acclaimed films like In America and Blood Diamond, he still struggles to get his due respect when it comes to meaningful roles and contracts.
“I still have to prove why I need to get paid,” he shared with The Guardian. “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.'”
The Benin-born actor broke through on the international stage with his role as Cinqué in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. It was a powerful performance, but Housou was overlooked by the Academy, with co-star Anthony Hopkins earning a nomination instead. In Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for lead actor while Housou earned a supporting nod — despite the film being centered on his character.
“I felt seriously cheated,” he said. “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.”
“Maybe I was early,” he added. “If my movies had come out today I definitely would have gotten an Oscar already.”
He was also frustrated that, even after his performances started to garner more attention, he was still limited in his choices of who he could play on screen — he played a slave in three different movies over just five years.
“I’m still struggling to try to make a dollar!” Hounsou noted. “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.”
“Viola Davis said it beautifully: she’s won an Oscar, she’s won an Emmy, she’s won a Tony [and, as of Feb. 5, a GRAMMY] and she still can’t get paid,” he continued. “Film after film, it’s a struggle. I have yet to meet the film that paid me fairly.”
Of all the franchises he’s joined over the last few years — DC, Marvel, Fast & Furious — Hounsou said that DC is the one making the most effort when it comes to equality.
“Out of them all, the DC universe has a level of respect,” he says. “There wasn’t much to the role at first and I did it and it was fun. But the second time around it was a little more respectful.”
“From time to time, [Hollywood] themselves make the point of saying: ‘We should give him more, he’s a little underappreciated.’ I think they recognize that themselves,” he says, before brushing it off. “Hey, it’s the struggle I have to overcome!”
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is in theaters now.
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