by G. Brown
Djimon Hounsou’s acting career has been an amazing journey that started off with him appearing in music videos like Janet Jackson “Love Will Never Do” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself”. The Beninese-American actor has now grown into a much sought actor for major film roles like 1997’s “Amistad”, “Gladiator” in 2000, 2006’s “Blood Diamond” alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and most recently 2015’s “Furious 7”. All those roles showcasing his talent has led to three noms for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Academy Award noms and a Golden Globe nomination.
Still at the end of the day, Hounsou is like many others, a parent who is trying to raise a child to see truth in the world and not the ugly lies that try to instill fear, doubt and self loathing.
In a recent interview with “The Guardian”, Hounsou shared a story about his son. The child told him one day, “I want to be light-skinned so I can climb the walls like Spider-Man“. Hounsou asks “can you imagine my misfortune when my son told me” that? He goes on to say “I was like, damn, My whole self was shattered. I was like, wow, what sort of comeback do you have for this?
For years, Hollywood has failed young movie fans like Hounsou’s son by continuing to cast White actors in top roles. Black actors were always given secondary, bit roles as villains, slaves, comedic relief and house servants. TV is breaking the mold of Whites only thanks to directors like Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels who have blockbuster hits in “Empire”, “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder”. These primarily Black cast and/or Black lead role shows have proven that there is an audience for such production. But the burgeoning genre of comic book lore to the big screen has tapped into a new audience and is opening new doors that were closed to Black actors. The success of Netflix’s “Luke Cage” shows that audiences will support a Black actor in the lead role of comic book superhero. While a lot of people complained that the primarily Black cast was racist, most people gave the show starring Mike Colter and Alfre Woodard and a hearty approval.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been leading the charge in giving Black actors key roles in superhero movies. Luke Cage will soon be joined by a big screen hero “Black Panther”. Chadwick Boseman landed the role for movie, but Hounsou voiced the TV animated version of the “Black Panther”. Even though he’s not playing the character in the film, Hounsou is still exited for the opportunities given to Blacks actors and says, “It’s about time! It’s absolutely great news to have a hero that Black folks can identify with.” Hounsou in talking about his son’s misguided notion that only White or lighter skinned people could play superheroes says it’s important to diversify onscreen roles; “It’s important to recognize yourself. It’s absolutely important. That’s the value in telling stories. There’s a reason why we create fantasy stories, so we can surpass this life condition.”
Hollywood seems to be inching its way toward “surpassing life’s condition” by giving us actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor in the current blockbuster “Dr. Strange” and Idris Elba in the “Thor” franchises. Soon Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson will be portraying the world’s first superhero-the bronze man himself, “Doc Savage”.
All these superhero roles may seem like child’s play, but the comic books brought to the big screen films are dominating the box office and earning top dollar…Marvel has made billions with it superhero line up. But way more valuable than the box office earnings is the priceless inspiration that seeing a Black superhero can give a kid dreaming of what he can be when he grows up.