Mahershala Ali just made history – he became the first Muslim to win an Oscar for acting when he won the Best Supporting Actor for his role in Barry Jenkins’ powerful coming-of-age film ‘Moonlight’. Mahershala Ali beat out the likes of Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and BAFTA winner Dev Patel (Lion) to take the trophy for one of the most competitive categories of the evening.
‘Moonlight’ chronicles the journey of a young black man Chiron from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. Ali plays Juan, a crack dealer who takes Chiron under his wing to protect him from being emotionally abused by his mother (Naomie Harris). He treasured the opportunity to portray an African-American male mentor, and drew on his own experiences of “[growing] up with a Juan”. Ali’s portrayal of Juan was so remarkable and sincere that he received universal acclaim from critics and won the Academy Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated for the Golden Globes.
In his heartfelt speech, he first thanked his teachers. “I had so many wonderful teachers [growing up], and one thing that they consistently told me was it wasn’t about you, it’s not about you. It’s about these characters. You’re in service to these stories and these characters. And I’m so blessed to have had an opportunity [to do that].” With visible emotions, he paid special tribute to his wife who was in her third trimester during the award season. When he announced that they just celebrated the birth of their daughter 4 days before, the crowd broke out into rousing applause.
Ali’s win is especially significant considering the recent Muslim ban that was enacted by U.S. President Donald Trump. In a time where mainstream media seems determined to fit Muslims in a box, he shows the world yet another face of Muslims – an Oscar-award winner.