His acting career came after he got disenchanted with basketball that he got a scholarship for.
2016 was a busy year for 43-year-old Mahershala Ali.
He had a recurring role on the political drama House of Cards, starred in the superhero series Luke Cage and also found time to be in three movies: Free State Jones, Hidden Figures and the Oscar winning Moonlight.
While he was the hated character Remy Danton in House of Cards, he couldn’t imagine that a few months later, he would be picking up an Oscar and seen by a global audience of nearly a billion people.
As a matter of fact, in 2016 he made the painful decision to walk away from the successful House of Cards. In a New York Times interview in October of that year, Ali described his time on the series as ‘grateful but not fulfilling.’ But taking that leap of faith delivered to him immediate global success.
Born with the extra long name ‘Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore’ to Christian parents, he converted to Islam as a young man and changed his surname to Ali.
His acting career came after he got disenchanted with basketball that he got a scholarship for. After his first degree in Mass Communication, he proceeded to earn a Masters’ degree in Acting.
Mashershala Ali as Cottonmouth in ‘Luke Cage’
But his qualification did little for his career: although he got several bit part roles in television dramas and low budget movies, he didn’t have the breakthrough that he imagined he would have.
Even when he was featured in major flicks such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it was always in minor roles that never proved his worth. Not until he was cast in the Netflix series House of Cards that he became some sort of household name. It allowed him to be considered for a role in the sci-fi adventure movie Hunger Games.
On leaving House of Cards, he starred in the critically acclaimed Moonlight where he played a tough-as-nails drug dealer who develops an unlikely friendship with a bullied homosexual teenager.
Oscars 2017: See the complete list of winners
Critics and movie buffs rated the film – and performance – high enough for it to be successful in the awards season. And it won at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and in five categories at the 2017 Oscars.
What’s more, Mahershala Ali won the prize for Best Actor in a Supporting Role; the very first time he would be nominated for an Oscar.
In an industry where it is notoriously hard for African-Americans to break through from stereotypical ‘black’ roles, Ali’s success is beautiful to watch. For him, he says the opportunity to play a black mentor in Moonlight softened him the more because he never had that type of figure in his life as a youth.
In his 16-year career, Mahershala Ali has played diverse roles. The ability to adapt and be fluid is a characteristic that is sure to help his late but rising career. And in present day America struggling with the acceptance of people with different religions, him being a Muslim will hopefully help in building bridges in his country.
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