New Dad Mahershala Ali Makes History With Totally Deserved Oscar Win

Mahershala Ali Oscars
Lisa O'Connor/ZUMA Press/Splash News
Last night's Academy Awards ceremony was certainly unforgettable, but not just because of that shocking Best Picture snafu. Oscars history was also made when the enormously talented Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for his work in (the real) Best Picture, Moonlight, making him the first Muslim ever to win in an acting category. And as if that weren't enough, Ali -- a brand-new dad -- gave one of the most gracious and humble acceptance speeches in recent memory.


Ali's triumph wasn't a huge surprise -- many expected him to win for his powerful portrayal of a drug-dealing father figure. But the victory was no small feat. For one thing, the 43-year-old actor was competing against some serious heavy hitters: Dev Patel (Lion), Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). For another, though he's recently appeared in a number of major roles (including as Taraji P. Henson's husband in Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures and as the villain Cottonmouth in Luke Cage), Ali's road to stardom has been a relatively long one, mostly due to the lack of starring roles available to black actors who aren't already proven box office draws. 

But now that he's officially "made it," one thing is clear: Ali's current success is well deserved, not just because he's a gifted actor, but also because he seems to be a truly decent human being. His emotional acceptance speech was an exercise in humility and grace, a tribute to all the people who helped him along the way -- and who still help him today.

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"I want to thank my teachers, my professors, my so many wonderful teachers," he said (after cracking an adorable joke about how his grandmother would want him to button up his jacket).

"One thing that they consistently told me ... Ron van Lou, Ken Washington, said it wasn't about you. It's not about you. It's about these characters. You are a servant. You're in service to these stories and these characters and I'm so blessed to have had an opportunity."

And we're all so blessed to have had the opportunity to watch Ali in action! His win would have been moving and important under any circumstances, but it's particularly poignant given Trump's Muslim ban and the current state of politics in general. Ali didn't mention his faith last night, like he did so beautifully during his SAG Awards acceptance speech, but he didn't have to. The meaning of his win was absolutely palpable, even watching the ceremony from thousands of miles away. 

If you missed the speech, it's an absolute must-see:

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If you don't come away from that thinking Mahershala Ali is a prince among men, well, maybe you should watch it again. And how sweet was it when the audience cheered at the news of his daughter Bari Najma Ali's arrival -- news he announced just two days before his groundbreaking win. Of course, he didn't leave out his wife, saying, "I just want to thank her for being such a soldier through this process and help and really carrying me through it all ..."

Mahershala Ali baby

Truly, though, as Ali said himself, this wasn't just about him. It was about the character, which was about showing the heartbreaking reality of how disenfranchised and underrepresented people are forced to live in this world every day. The choices they're forced to make. The choices that aren't theirs to make at all. We need more actors like Ali, more stories like Moonlight, more voices like these to be heard in our society -- and we need them now. Congratulations to Ali for his magnificent accomplishment, and for making a difference!

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