Facts about Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali Biography
Mahershala Ali received rave reviews — and then won an Oscar — for his performance in the 2016 film Moonlight. Two years later he won another Oscar as best supporting actor for his role in Green Book.
Raised outside of Oakland, California, Mahershala Ali played basketball at St. Mary’s college (graduating in 1996) before turning to acting. He got his first break with a role on the TV series Crossing Jordan (2001-02). He then spent a dozen years working mostly in television, including the series The 4400 (2004-07). His big screen career got a big boost with a role in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (starring Brad Pitt).
He gained more attention as political operative Remy Danton in the TV drama House of Cards (with Kevin Spacey) and as bad guy Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes in the modern superhero TV series Luke Cage. The exposure from House of Cards put Ali more in the spotlight, and he appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Parts 1 and 2, 2014 and 2015) and The Free State of Jones (2016).
But his major breakthrough was Moonlight, a small-budget drama directed by Barry Jenkins. Ali played Juan, a hardened drug dealer in Miami who befriends a vulnerable young boy. He was nominated for an Academy Award at best supporting actor, and won the award at the Oscar ceremony on February 26, 2017.
In 2018 he starred with Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, playing a Black pianist being escorted through the racist South by a white New York City tough guy. Based on the life of jazz and classical pianist Don Shirley, the role won Ali his second Oscar as best supporting actor.
Ali’s other credits include the films Hidden Figures (2016, starring Octavia Spencer), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, the voice of Uncle Aaron), Alita: Battle Angel (2019, directed by Robert Rodriguez) and Swan Song (2021).
Ali has also been Emmy nominated for TV roles that include the shows House of Cards, True Detective and Ramy, and he won an Emmy (as executive producer) for We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest.
Mahershala Ali is “the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award,” according to a 2017 report in Variety… His first name at birth was Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore. He told E! Online in 2017, “It’s the longest word in the bible… Mahershalalhashbaz was the prophet Isaiah’s second son.” He changed his last name to Ali as an adult… His wife, Amatus Sami-Karim, is an artist and composer. Their first child, a daughter named Bari Najma, was born on February 22, 2017, four days before his Oscar win… Mahershala Ali is no relation to boxer Muhammad Ali.