It is every actor’s nightmare to play the same part over and over. For minority actors in particular, being typecast is not the stuff of bad dreams — it is very much a reality! Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer has complained repeatedly about being typecast as the selfless caregiver, and in 2016, rising star Riz Ahmed wrote a cutthroat essay denouncing the stereotyping of people of color in Hollywood.
And those are the lucky ones. In 2015 and 2016, the lack of opportunities for non-white actors sparked the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag following the Academy’s failure to recognize Hollywood’s diversity two years in a row. The polemic behind the viral hashtag? Not only are minority talents not recognized, there are simply not enough interesting roles for non-white actors out there — and where there are no roles, there can be no recognition.
Benin-born actor, Djimon Hounsou, is no stranger to the plight for more diversified roles. Even though he starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond and played gladiator, Juba, alongside Russel Crowe in 2000, Hounsou’s most prominent roles have developed a disturbing pattern: that of a loincloth-clad Savage. A black man playing a primitive tribesman while his muscular body is on full display? Where do we start with the amount of stereotyping here!
So here are five times Djimon Hounsou was typecast as the primitive tribesman from the dark continent of Africa!
5. 'Amistad', 1997
In Amistad, Hounsou plays Cinque, a slave who leads a mutiny in 1839 on the US-bound slave ship, La Amistad. Under Cinque’s leadership, the men manage to take control of the ship, but they are eventually stopped by the US navy and put on trial with the charge of being runaway slaves. A court drama ensues between the abolitionists, who fight for the men’s release, and those who labor to keep them in chains.
For most of the unfolding drama, Cinque wears nothing but a loincloth that leaves little to the imagination!
4. 'Gladiator', 2000
Arguably, Djimon Hounsou’s most notable role was in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. He played Juba, a slave-turned-gladiator and a loyal ally to Russel Crowe’s character, Maximus. Their prowess in gladiator fights brings them to the Colosseum for an ultimate showdown against Commodus, the Roman Emperor who’s responsible for the murder of Maximus’ family.
And although Juba doesn’t literally wear a loincloth, his main attire consists of a rag that once again leaves little to the imagination.
3. 'The Four Feathers', 2002
In the 2002 adaptation of A. E .W. Mason’s novel, The Four Feathers, Djimon Hounsou is — you guessed it — the uncivilized native who repeatedly assists the main protagonists (all white) and helps them attain success in their endeavors. And what does our faithful savior wear? Yes, you know it: a loincloth. Isn’t that what the predominantly-Muslim people of Sudan wore in the 1880s?
2. 'The Tempest', 2010
In the 2010 adaptation of Shakespeare’s iconic play, Hounsou plays Caliban, a strange creature who is neither man nor fish. Caliban, the only native of the island where Prospero’s crew end up after suffering a shipwreck, is forced into servitude by the stranded men and further punished by his master after he tries to rape Prospero’s daughter, Miranda.
And what have we here? Djimon Hounsou, once more, wearing the proverbial loincloth! But if you think this is the last we’ve seen of this fashionable piece of clothing, think again.
1. 'The Legend of Tarzan', 2016
The 2016 remake of the Disney favorite breaks from its predecessors by being more political. In the new Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard, who plays the title role, combats colonialists who look to exploit Africa’s riches with the help of one and only Samuel L. Jackson. To help viewers acclimate to all those changes, the producers saved one constant untouched: that’s Djimon Hounsou’s character, playing the everlasting part of a skimpily dressed savage!
With black males in America being stripped of their humanity on a daily basis, it becomes clear that pigeon-holing one of Hollywood's few black actors into savage roles is problematic. Granted, in four out of the five films, Hounsou plays a positive hero, but still, how much can it benefit the black community to see Africans constantly portrayed as rag-wearing bushmen?
Can you think of other actors who endlessly play the same role? Why is it problematic? Sound off in the comment section!