Who is Mahershala Ali? Everything you need to know about the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar

Mahershala Ali’s portrayal of Juan in this year’s Best Picture, Moonlight, won him an Academy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Critics’ Choice Award. We found out all you need to know about him...

This year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar went to Mahershala Ali, making him the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award.

Ali won the gong for his portrayal of Juan in Moonlight, which won the Best Picture Oscar after an embarrassing blunder which saw La La Land initially announced as the winner of the night’s top award.

We found out everything you need to know about the actor.

Who is he?

Mahershala Ali was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore in Oakland, California in 1974.

He was raised a Christian and his mother became an ordained minister while he was studying at St Mary’s College of California, where he obtained a degree in mass communication.

Both his aunt and grandmother were also ordained ministers.

He began at college with a basketball scholarship, but he became less interested in a career as a professional athlete and more interested in acting, gaining an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theater before pursuing a masters in acting at New York University.

[Read more: Oscars 2017: Who has won?]

When did he convert to Islam?

The 43-year-old’s conversion to Islam began while he was studying in New York.

Writing in a collection of short stories by American converts to Islam he said: “New York is such a melting pot of culture, ideas, art, theology – not to mention the monolithic architecture that is a constant reminder of one’s smallness – that you cannot help but think of the higher power.”

He says he began to question his belief, even thinking “that religion was created by man out of fear of death.”

“But before this belief took hold, I was introduced to Islam,” he wrote.

The first time he attended a mosque, he says he cried “tears of understanding”, and he converted to Islam in his final year of graduate studies, changing his surname to Ali.

He joined the Ahmadiyya Community in 2001.

His wife gave birth to his first child, a daughter named Bari Najma, on February 22, 2017.

[Read more: Everything you need to know about Netflix’s new Marvel superhero Luke Cage]

Where have I seen him before?

His first major film role was as Tizzy Weathers in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008.

Since then he’s also had roles in Predators, The Place Beyond the Pines, and played Colonel Boggs in the final two instalments of the popular Hunger Games series.

Ali has also made a name for himself in two Netflix shows, playing the formidable lobbyist Remy Danton in House of Cards, and Cottonmouth in superhero drama Luke Cage.

He had a role in another of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, as Jim Johnson in Hidden Figures.

What is Moonlight about?

Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight follows the story of Chiron, who is played by three different actors representing different stages of his life.

The movie follows Chiron through three defining stages of his life as he struggles to find himself, battles the emotion of falling in love, and grapples with his own sexuality.

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