Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor at the 2017 Academy Awards.
Mahershala Ali bent Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of Muslims as people to be feared as he received a rousing ovation when he became the first actor belonging to the Islamic faith to win an Oscar. He won the best supporting actor award for the film Moonlight. The movie narrated the story of an African American youth who is shown to accept his sexuality. The film was roundly applauded by the U.S. Muslim community. The award could not have come on a more opportune time.
Ali is a known convert to Islam. He was born a Christian and his birth name was Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore. He has recently spoken about the discrimination faced by him personally after he joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 2001.
The Moonlight script was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film shows Ali playing a drug dealer known as Juan. His character functions as a father figure to Chiron, the film's protagonist. The Barry Jenkins directed film has proved to be a critical hit from the time of its premiere at the 2016 Telluride film festival.
Ali is a veteran actor. He can also be seen in Hidden Figures, also an Oscar-nominated film and in a number of highly popular television shows like House of Cards, The 4400 and Treme. He has won multiple awards for the film Moonlight, including Critics Choice, NAACP Image Awards and Screen Actors Guild. He was, however, narrowly beaten at the Baftas (Dev Patel in the film Lion won) and Golden Globes (the prize was won by Nocturnal Animals' Aaron Taylor Johnson).
Wow it's 2017 and #MahershalaAli now becomes the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Well better late than never. Congrats Mahershala!! ?
— Noreen Khan (@DJNoreenKhan) February 27, 2017
Mahershala's win could not have come at a better time. The Trump administration has restricted immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries citing security concerns. Trump's action led to Asghar Farhadi, the director from Iran, opting not to attend the awards ceremony. The film made by Farhadi, The Salesman subsequently went on to win the Oscar for the best film made in the foreign language.
Ali's acceptance speech was subtle. He did not mention his religion during his speech. Instead, the talented actor thanked his wife. The latter had given birth to a girl only a few days before the Oscar ceremony. Like Mahershala, his wife is also a Muslim. He said the characters of the films are important to him and he considers himself as a slave to the characters he played.