Mahershala Ali, First Muslim Actor to Win Oscar, Ever

If you’ve been following the Oscars, then you should have watched the jaw-dropping moment when the Oscar-favorite “La La Land” was mistakenly named best picture at the 2017 Oscars.

The real winner was “Moonlight” and host Jimmy Kimmel confirmed that “Moonlight” had indeed won, showing the inside of the envelope as proof. He joked, “I knew I would screw this up.”

The night’s first winner was Mahershala Ali for his performance in “Moonlight,” making him the first Muslim actor to win a gold statuette.

In his speech, Ali thanked his wife for “being such a soldier” while being pregnant during the making of the film. The couple welcomed their daughter four days ago.

Mahershala Ali addressed the mix-up incident on Sunday night with no hard feelings at all.

“You know, “La La Land” has done so well and has resonated with so many people especially in this time when people need a sense of buoyancy in their life and need some hope and light,” Ali said, praising the film.

“So that film has really impacted people sort of in a very different way than “Moonlight” so when their name was read I wasn’t really surprised.” He continued.

Who is Mahershala Ali?

Mahershala Ali is fast becoming one of the freshest and most in-demand faces in Hollywood with his extraordinarily diverse skill set and wide-ranging background in film, television, and theater.

Ali was raised Christian but  converted to Islam in 2000. The star, who is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, used his SAG Supporting Actor speech to discuss the persecution of those from Muslim-majority countries.

Ali, who converted to Islam  in his 20s, opened up about his spirituality last month in a warm speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

“My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do back flips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, you put things to the side and I’m able to see her and she’s able to see me. We love each other. The love has grown. And that stuff is minutia. It’s not that important.”

In an extensive interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Ali spoke of his prayer-filled childhood, with a grandmother who was also an ordained minister in the Baptist church.

“I prayed every day of my life, and that was instilled in me as a kid, and as I’ve gotten older, that’s just matured in me,” he said.

But when he was about 13, he started asking his father questions about Christianity. A few years later, when Ali left for graduate school at New York University, he started to become more exposed to other beliefs and continued to question his own. “I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” he said.

On Dec. 31, 1999, he had a sudden urge to visit a mosque in Brooklyn, and in the middle of a sermon, he started to cry.

“There was this connection that pierced through it all for me,” he said. “And I felt like I was in the right place.”

A man touched him on the shoulder, asking him if he was Muslim. When he responded that he wasn’t, the man asked: “Do you want to be?”

“And I said, ‘Yes.’ So he took me up to the imam, and I made my pledge.”

Career highlights

Ali  graduated in 1996 with a degree in mass communication. He began his career as a regular on series such as “Crossing Jordan” and “Threat Matrix” before his breakthrough role as Richard Tyler in the science-fiction series “The 4400”.

His first major film release was in the 2008 romantic fantasy drama film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, and his other notable films include “Predators”, “The Place Beyond the Pines”, “Free State of Jones” and “Hidden Figures”.

In “The Hunger Games” series. Ali is also known for his roles in the Netflix series House of Cards as Remy Danton and as Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes in Luke Cage.

His latest performance in Moonlight (2016) received universal acclaim from critics and won the Academy Award, the SAG Award and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award.

His win at the 89th Academy Awards made him the first Muslim to win an Oscar for acting.