Nov 2, 2013

What's Gay About Djimon Hounsou?

In the 2010 film version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with Helen Mirren as a female Prospera, the gay-coded jester Trinculo (Russell Brand) stumbles across the savage Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) hiding under a blanket.  In order to escape the coming storm, he crawls under the blanket, too, but not all the way, just far enough so that his head is against Caliban's crotch.  The homoerotic implication is rather obvious in a movie already heavy-laden with gay subtexts.

I knew Russell Brand from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Get Him to the Greek (2010).  The flamboyantly feminine British comedian is heterosexual, although he had sex with a man once for a tv show.

But who was Djimon Hounsou?

Born in 1964 in Benin, West Africa, Djimon moved to Paris at age 13, where he was discovered by fashion designer Thierry Mugler and became a model (he reprised his modeling career in 2007 in a Calvin Klein underwear ad).

 He moved to the U.S. in 1990, appeared in music videos with Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, and began acting, mostly playing Africans, such as Cinque, leader of the slave revolt in Amistad (1997), or Nigerian immigrant Mobalage Ikabo in a recurring role on ER (1999).  

Hollywood thinks that gay men are all thin, willowy white people, so one doesn't expect a lot of gay roles on Djimon's resume.  But there are a surprising number of gay subtexts.

In Gladiator (2000), he plays the Nubian slave Juba, who befriends fellow gladiator Maximus (Russell Crowe). When Maximus dies in a match with the Emperor, Juba buries some figurines he made of his partner and his family, and vows that they will be together in the afterlife.

In Beauty Shop (2005), he plays the African immigrant Joe, a gay-coded pianist who befriends the teenage Vanessa (Paige Hurd).

In Never Back Down (2009), he plays Jean Roqua, who trains the young Jake Tyler (Sean Farris) in martial arts.

The actor had a wife and a son, so presumably he's heterosexual in real life.  He's apparently never said a word about gay people, positive or negative, so he may be unaware that they exist.  He does talk about the lack of diversity in film, especially superhero films, but I think he means racial diversity.

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