Films

Everything you need to know about Mahershala Ali

Posted by
Dave Fawbert
Published

Other than that cock-up, the talk of Tinseltown last night was of Mahershala Ali becoming – remarkably – the first-ever Muslim Oscar winner, being awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight, which (eventually) won Best Picture.

He also starred in another nominee for Best Picture, playing Jim Johnson in Hidden Figures, meaning that Ali has now been propelled firmly into the Hollywood A-list.

But who exactly is Mahershala Ali? If you looked at the picture and thought “oh yeah, he’s… that guy… from that thing…” then this is what you need to know.

- Born 16 February 1974, he is 43 years old. But he doesn’t look it, the handsome devil

- He was born and raised as a Christian in California, with the full name Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore – his Christian name referencing Maher-shalal-hash-baz, a biblical prophetic-name child

- He converted to Islam in his final year of graduate school and changed his surname to Ali. He was known professionally by his full Christian name until 2010, when he shortened it to Mahershala

- He won a basketball scholarship to Saint Mary's College of California but decided against a career in the sport

Ali alongside his co-stars in The 4400

- Beginning in television, he received his first recurring roles as Jelani Harper in Threat Matrix (2003-2004) and Richard Tyler in The 4400 (2004-2007)

- He played Tizzy Weathers in the 2008 David Fincher movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

- His star began to rise in 2013, when he was cast as Remy Danton in Netflix’s House of Cards, where he played a lawyer and lobbyist, and former press secretary, who struggles with the ethics of his role, despite being a seriously smooth political operator

Ali as Remy Danton, alongside Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, in House of Cards

- On the small screen, he also gained acclaim for his role as Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes in the 2016 Netflix and Marvel series Luke Cage

- On the big screen, he played Colonel Boggs in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 (2014/2015), before appearing in no fewer than four films and one short film (alongside his work in Luke Cage) in a busy 2016: KicksGubagude Ko; Free State of Jones; Moonlight and Hidden Figures

Playing Colonel Boggs alongside Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

- He owns a cat named Nas, after the legendary rapper. He is allergic to dogs, although he would not be able to have one anyway due to his religious beliefs

- Sorry everyone: he has a wife, Amatus Sami-Karim and a daughter, Bari Najma, who was born four days before his Oscars win

- Good grief, he can rock a white tux

- Ali’s Oscars win wasn’t celebrated by all Muslims. He belongs to the minority Ahmadi sect; in countries such as Pakistan and Malaysia, Ahmadis are reviled by hardline Sunni Muslims as heretics, and even infidels. In Pakistan, they are considered non-Muslims, with the founder of the sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in 1835, denounced as a false prophet. The majority of Muslims believe that Mohammad was the final prophet

- Ali makes a music playlist for every character he plays

 -He has dabbled in rapping – in 2007 he released an album, Curb Side Service, under the name Prince Ali

(Images: Rex/AllStar/Netflix)