“I was a rowdy kid and my brother was the only one who could calm me down.”
Born in Benin, Djimon was the youngest in a brood of five. His older brother took care of the family after their mother moved to Cote d’Ivoire. His older brother, who worked in a bank, was able to save enough money to send Djimon to school in Lyon, France when he was 13.
“School bored me. Being educated and being intelligent are two different things. I thought I was smart enough. I stopped going to school as a way of saying I was mature, a way of saying I was going to choose who I was going to become”. So at the age of 18, Djimon decided to quit school and survived by accepting small jobs.
“Since I had left school, I was not “legal” anymore as I had no longer the student status. Therefore, I could not work legally. So I was left out on the street. I could not go around too much either because I feared to be arrested by the police and immediately deported.”
From Lyon, Djimon decided to move to Paris with only 500 French Francs (80 Euros these days) in his pocket, and a backpack with just some clothes. He used to sleep in train stations, subways, or on benches in the streets. He navigated the streets trying to find something to eat.
One day, his life took a drastic turn. A photographer took a picture of him in front of Beaubourg Art center and gave him his contact details.
“He suggested I should go meet a friend of his who was working for a model agency. They sent me to a couple of casting calls. As I was still sleeping on the streets, I had to wash myself in a fountain before going.”
One of the casting call was for famous designer Thierry Mugler. Djimon was selected and traveled to the United States as a fashion model.
After a few years, Djimon became a successful actor based in Los Angeles. He is now a loving father and husband. He acted in famous films such as Amistad (1997), Gladiator (2000) or Blood Diamond (2006). He’s the fourth male African who received an Oscar-nomination for acting. He is also an activist and became the global ambassador of Oxfam to fight against poverty and injustice. In 2009, Djimon addressed the plenary at the United Nations World Summit on Climate Change.
Although he lives on the American territory, Africa is his continent. “It is where I opened my eyes. Africa is a continent that provides so much for the existence of the rest of the world. We go around the world and cultivate so many things. One of the things I find extremely challenging about the continent of Africa is that when the immediate needs and the social needs of people are not met, that kills dreams, and it's all about survival.”
“My legacy for my people exists. I need to tell my story about my worst days. I hope my people are proud of me. At the end of the day, you can never get away from who you are.”
The story is based on interviews given by Djimon to different media outlets.