Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, who starred in the epic movie “Toussaint L’Ouverture,” won the Excellence in the Arts prize from the Caribbean American Heritage Awards, which celebrates the contributions Caribbean immigrants have made to the United States.
“Jimmy Jean-Louis received the award for his humanitarian accomplishments as well as his professional accomplishments,” said Melissa Williams, spokeswoman for the Institute of Caribbean Studies, which is based in D.C. and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary during a gala attended by about 500 people at the J.W. Marriott.
Williams said Jean-Louis, who founded Hollywood Unites for Haiti, received the award from the Institute of Caribbean Studies because he has used his “tremendous acting talent” to help his native Haiti. “We have seen his work and social entrepreneurship — from his foundation to the work he does in his hometown village, which is impressive to us,” she said. “We wanted to highlight his professional accomplishments — first working as a model in Europe then moving to the United States and starring as a television and movie actor.”Jean-Louis is well known for his starring role as The Haitian in the hit television series, “Heroes.” Many local movie watchers may remember Jean-Louis as the love interest of the character played by the Oscar-winning actress Monique in the movie “Phat Girlz.”I interviewed Jean-Louis for a story I wrote about Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry. Jean-Louis starred in the movie, “One Night in Vegas,” which was filmed in a Maryland mansion and directed by Nigerian-filmmaker John Uche, a resident of Prince George’s. “One Night in Vegas,” a romantic drama, was written by Koby Maxwell, a Ghanaian filmmaker who now lives in Maryland.
Nollywood, the colloquial name used to describe the Nigerian film industry, is the second-biggest movie industry in the world in terms of number of movies made — second in film production to India’s Bollywood. Hollywood comes in third. Nollywood has swept Africa and the Caribbean, and recently Nollywood and Gollywood actors and filmmakers have begun making movies here. They call it Nollywood USA.
Jean-Louis, a Hollywood A-lister who has starred in films with actors Bruce Willis and Glenn Close, said he contributes to Nollywood movies to help boost the film industry. “The reason is to be part of the evolution and the growth of Nollywood,” Jean-Louis said on the film set in Maryland. “I try to do one once a year…They are slowly getting better results and quality. It’s on the verge of getting bigger.”
Jean-Louis tweeted after receiving the award: “Thanks again for the Caribbean American Excellence In The Arts award.”
Other recipients of the Caribbean American Heritage Awards included Jamaican Reggae legend Freddie McGregor, known for his hits “To Be Poor is a Crime,” “Big Ship,” “Push Comes to Shove,” and “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely.” McGregor, who was born in Clarendon, Jamaica, received the institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.