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Two-Time Oscar Nominee Says He Feels "Cheated" by Hollywood: "It's a Struggle"

Djimon Hounsou is battling to be paid fairly despite his long and successful career.

Most actors probably feel like they're on top of the world after getting an Academy Award nomination, but that feeling doesn't always last. While a nomination can lead to more and better opportunities, recognition from the Academy doesn't always result in a wider choice of roles or huge Hollywood paychecks. Just ask Djimon Hounsou. The 58-year-old actor has been nominated for two Oscars, but in a new interview, he shared that he feels "cheated" by the industry over the roles he's been offered, the pay he's been given, and a general lack of respect. Read on to find out what he had to say about the issues he's faced in his career, even after seemingly getting a major break.

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Hounsou has been nominated for two Best Supporting Actor Oscars.

Djimon Hounsou at the 2007 Oscars
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Benin-born Hounsou came to fame in Hollywood in the 1990s. He got his start in modeling and in music videos, and his breakout film role came in 1997's Amistad. In the Steven Spielberg film, he plays Cinqué, a captured man who leads a revolt on the slave ship La Amistad. In the few years after Amistad, he took on roles in movies including GladiatorThe Four FeathersConstantine, and The Island.

In 2004, Hounsou received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for In America. In the drama about an Irish family trying to establish themselves in New York City, the actor plays an artist who lives in their tenement building. Three years later, Hounsou was nominated in the same category for his work in Blood Diamond. He starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in the political thriller set against the backdrop of the civil war in Sierra Leone. In 2004, he lost the trophy to Tim Robbins for Mystic River; in 2007, the Oscar went to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.

Hounsou feels "cheated" by the business.

Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Jay Baruchel, and Kit Harington at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
Jaguar PS / Shutterstock

In a new interview with The Guardian, Hounsou was asked about not being nominated for Amistad while co-star Anthony Hopkins was. (The film received four nominations total.)

"Yeah. Maybe I was early," the actor replied. "If my movies had come out today I definitely would have gotten an Oscar already."

Regarding the institutions of the Oscars in general, Hounsou admitted, "I felt seriously cheated. 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."

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He also feels that he's been undervalued financially.

Djimon Hounsou at the premiere of "King Arthur Legend of the Sword" in 2017
Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Hounsou doesn't believe that the industry has been fair to him when it comes to pay and the roles he's offered either. The Guardian notes that, across one five-year period in his career, he played three enslaved characters.

"I'm still struggling to try to make a dollar!" he told The Guardian. "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."

He added, "I still have to prove why I need to get paid. 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.'"

"I have yet to meet the film that paid me fairly," the actor claimed.

He's still trying to prove himself.

Djimon Hounsou at the 2020 Costume Designers Guild Awards
DFree / Shutterstock

Despite having two Academy Award nominations and a resume that includes box office hits and work with acclaimed directors, Hounsou is still having to prove himself all these years later, and that's partly because of how he's perceived. His latest movie is Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which is in theaters now, and he told The Guardian that one of his reasons for taking on roles in franchises—he's also a part of the Fast & Furious series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe—is to communicate that he's a "man of today" and "to prove that I can speak the language."

"I may not speak perfectly like an American with an American accent, but I don't need to be all-American," the actor said.

Hounsou brought up his expanded role in the Shazam! sequel as an example of the consideration he feels he hasn't been shown on other projects. "Out of them all, the DC universe has a level of respect," he said of the comic book adaptation. "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."

Black actors in Hollywood are undervalued.

In 2021, Deadline reported on a study that found that Hollywood is losing out on around $10 billion annually by undervaluing Black-led projects. The study "found that Black-led projects have been consistently underfunded and undervalued even though there has been evidence that is clear as day that they outperform other properties when it comes to a return on their investment."

In his Guardian interview, Hounsou referenced Viola Davis and her outspokenness about fair pay in Hollywood, declaring that she "said it beautifully." At the 2018 Women in the World event, Davis listed out her achievements and accolades—she's now an EGOT recipient—and explained that she's still not paid fairly compared to her peers despite all of that.

"I have a career that's probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver. They all came out of Yale. They came out of Julliard. They came out of NYU. They had the same path as me, and yet I am nowhere near them, not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities, nowhere close to it," Davis said. "But, I have to get on that phone and people say, 'You're a Black Meryl Streep … There is no one like you.' Okay, then if there's no one like me, you think I'm that, you pay me what I'm worth. You give me what I'm worth."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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