'Blood Diamond' star returns to Benin to film 'true' voodoo

Heve, Benin -- As the drumming rumbles on, Hollywood actor Djimon Hounsou walks shirtless with a voodoo procession making its way through the dusty streets of Heve in his native Benin.

See Full Article

"I am like an African who has come home, who needs to know and learn about his culture," says Hounsou, who has starred in blockbusters like "Blood Diamond" alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and "Gladiator" with Russell Crowe.

The American-Beninese actor is now making and starring in his own film documenting his quest to understand voodoo in this west African state where it was born, before history spread it overseas.

"The practices here are not bad and they aren't savage," says the tall 51-year-old with a shaved head and a salt-and-pepper goatee, decrying the negative image often depicted on the silver screen of back-alley sorcerers casting malicious spells.

One classic is the 1973 James Bond film "Live and Let Die" where a Caribbean dictator uses voodoo to frighten and manipulate his island.

But Hounsou says such images undermine the religion.

"That concept dates back to slavery. That is why we need to clarify what defines voodoo," Hounsou tells AFP, explaining that racism in the past is still perpetuating negative stereotypes about voodoo.

In the village of Heve, which lies at the western edge of Benin's coastline, the people have long practised voodoo, celebrating air god Dan and water god Mami Wata.

As the worshippers file through the streets, resplendent in white robes and draped with multicoloured beads, Hounsou's crew films everything.

Worshipping ancestors

By mid-morning, the heat in Benin, a country of more than 10 million people, is already intense. As technicians set up equipment in the town square, girls draw water from a tap.

The village, with its devoted voodoo cult, was not chosen at random.

"These spirits are very well preserved and people kept dedicating themselves truly to voodoo," explains priest David Koffi Aza, who practises Fâ -- a system of divination -- and is working as a guide for Hounsou and his crew.

"Imported religions didn't take hold so it's a purer practice."

Spirits play a central role in voodoo, acting as a link between the living and the dead in a religion which is built upon the worship of both ancient ancestors and the four elements: earth, water, wind and fire.

In the wake of the slave trade, voodoo practices spread from west Africa to the West Indies, Brazil and the United States.

According to the last census in 2002, 17 percent of Benin's population practises voodoo -- an official religion in the country -- while 27 percent are Catholic and 24 percent are Muslim.

However, such figures mask the reality that many Beninese, whether they go to church or attend mosque, have voodoo shrines in their homes.

'A story badly told'

"After spending so much time in Europe and the US, seeing African diaspora traditions that resemble ours, I began to ask questions," says Hounsou, dabbing sweat off his brow.

Working with Hounsou on his bid to document voodoo in Benin is co-director and star Sorious Samura, a well-known journalist from Sierra Leone.

The two met nine years ago on the set of "Blood Diamond", a film that was based on Samura's documentary "Cry Freetown" which dealt with the civil war gripping his country.

"Voodoo is a story that is very badly told, full of witchcraft, magic and evil -- even Africans believe that," says Samura, adding that such ideas have been "buried deep in our psyche."

The two directors hope their film, entitled "In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven," can help change that misconception.

With less than a month until they finish shooting, Hounsou says they are not seeking to win converts.

"Voodoo has existed for centuries. It doesn't force itself on you," he says.

Shooting of the film is expected to finish on January 10, when a huge voodoo festival will be celebrated across the country.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • Ariana Grande offers message of hope on attack anniversary

    Entertainment CTV News
    LONDON - Ariana Grande has shared a message of hope with fans on the anniversary of the bombing at Manchester Arena that killed 22 people. The pop star tells survivors and the families of victims that she is "thinking of you all today and every day. Source
  • 'American Idol' crowns its latest winner

    Entertainment CTV News
    LOS ANGELES - Iowa native Maddie Poppe has won "American Idol." The singer-songwriter bested Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Gabby Barrett in Monday night's two-hour finale on ABC. Poppe and Hutchinson announced on the program that they're dating, surprising judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. Source
  • Can art recreate a migrant's border trauma? This simulation might come close

    Entertainment CBC News
    Migrants caught fleeing to the U.S. border have a term in Spanish for the holding cells where detainees often wait days to be processed. They call them las hieleras, or the freezers, and it quickly becomes apparent why. Source
  • Despite Spotify change, R. Kelly's streams still intact

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Streaming numbers for R. Kelly have remained intact a week after Spotify announced it had removed the R&B singer's music from its playlists, citing its new policy on hate content and hateful conduct. Source
  • Kensington Palace shares family portrait, other royal wedding photos

    Entertainment CBC News
    Kensington Palace has released three official wedding photographs taken of Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle shortly after their wedding. Alexi Lubomirski's images include a family portrait of the couple with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William and their spouses, as well as Markle's mother and the children who served as bridesmaids and page boys. Source
  • Billboard Awards show honours Texas and Florida school shooting victims

    Entertainment CBC News
    The 2018 Billboard Music Awards paid tribute to the students and teachers affected by recent deadly shootings in Texas and Florida, while the night also featured show-stopping performances by iconic singer Janet Jackson and K-pop group BTS. Source
  • Taylor Swift is doing more to stop scalpers than Ontario's new ticket act: experts

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Step aside Ontario lawmakers, because Taylor Swift is giving you a lesson in how to deflect concert scalpers. As the province gets ready to introduce a new law on July 1 which puts a price cap on resales of live-event tickets, experts say it's the world-famous pop singer who's doing a better job squeezing out black-market opportunists. Source
  • Why Book Club's Canadian co-writer resisted when told to go 'younger'

    Entertainment CBC News
    It started as a gag gift and turned into a movie script. Canadian Erin Simms sent a copy of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey to her mother and stepmom in 2012 when the erotic romance trilogy was gaining popularity. The idea came from Bill Holderman, a co-worker who would soon become her co-writer and director for the script of the film Book Club. Source
  • School victims honoured at Billboard Awards; Janet, BTS shine

    Entertainment CTV News
    The 2018 Billboard Music Awards paid tribute to the students and teachers affected by recent deadly shootings in Texas and Florida, while the night also featured show-stopping performances by iconic singer Janet Jackson and K-pop group BTS. Source
  • Janet Jackson, Shawn Mendes, Ariana Grande set for Billboard Awards

    Entertainment CBC News
    After celebrating her 52nd birthday and the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking janet. album, Janet Jackson will be capping off an epic week with her first televised performance in nine years at the Billboard Music Awards. Jackson will also receive the Icon Award on Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, where today's hitmakers will also take the stage, from Ariana Grande to John Legend. Source