Mahershala Ali

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Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali by Gage Skidmore (cropped).jpg
Ali at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore

(1974-02-16) February 16, 1974 (age 47)
Other namesMahershala Karim-Ali,
Hershal Gilmore
EducationSaint Mary's College, California (BA)
New York University (MFA)
OccupationActor, rapper
Years active2001–present
Amatus Sami-Karim
(m. 2013)
AwardsFull list

Mahershala Ali (/məˈhɜːrʃələ/; born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, February 16, 1974) is an American actor and rapper who is the recipient of multiple accolades, including two Academy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy Award. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.[2] In 2020, The New York Times ranked him #23 in its list of the 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century.[3]

After pursuing an MFA degree from New York University, Ali began his career as a regular on television series, such as Crossing Jordan (2001–2002) and Threat Matrix (2003–2004), before his breakthrough role as Richard Tyler in the science fiction series The 4400 (2004–2007). His first major film release was in the David Fincher–directed fantasy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). He gained wider attention for supporting roles in the final two films of The Hunger Games film series, and Netflix series' Luke Cage and House of Cards, receiving his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the latter.

Ali won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances as Juan in the drama film Moonlight (2016) and for his portrayal of Dr. Don Shirley in the comedy-drama film Green Book (2018). This made him the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, and the first black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same category.[4] In 2019, he played the lead role of a troubled police officer in the third season of the HBO anthology crime series True Detective and in 2020, he starred in the second season of the Hulu comedy-drama series Ramy. He received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for both performances.

Early life and education[edit]

Mahershala Ali was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore in 1974, in Oakland, California,[5][6] the son of Willicia Goines (born 1957) and Phillip Gilmore (1956–1994).[7] He was raised as a Christian in Hayward, California, by his mother, an ordained Baptist minister.[8][9][10][7] His father was an actor who appeared on Broadway.[9][7] Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the name of a prophetic child in chapter 8 of the Biblical Book of Isaiah.[7]

He attended St. Mary's College of California (SMC) in Moraga, California, where he graduated in 1996 with a degree in mass communication.[8] He entered SMC with a basketball scholarship and went by the name "Hershal Gilmore" when playing for the SMC Gaels.[11] He became disenchanted with the idea of a sports career because of the treatment given to the team's athletes and developed an interest in acting, particularly after taking part in a staging of Spunk. This later landed him an apprenticeship at the California Shakespeare Theater following graduation. After a sabbatical year working for Gavin Report, he enrolled in New York University's graduate acting program at Tisch School of the Arts, earning his master's degree in 2000.[8]

In 2000, he converted to Ahmadiyya Islam, changed his surname from Gilmore to Ali. In interviews, he has recounted numerous problems he has faced at airports, with banks and otherwise in everyday life as an American Muslim since the September 11 attacks.[12][13][14]



Ali at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con

Ali was known professionally by his full name, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, from 2001 until 2010, when he began to be credited as Mahershala Ali.[8][15] Ali had considered shortening his name for a while, saying that using his full first name was "a crazy thing to do considering that we're in Hollywood", although he had never been pressured by managers or agents to change it.[15] He decided to use a shorter version of his first name after being told that his full name was too long to fit on the poster for the film The Place Beyond the Pines. He did not want the alternative of "M. Ali" to represent himself on the poster, so he chose to adopt the shorter version of his name.[15]

He elaborated in an interview to Vanity Fair in October 2016:

"I think if you have any desire to be a leading man or to really carry some of these stories, there's this relationship that has to be cultivated with an audience. People have to be able to say your name. I didn't want a couple of syllables to get in the way of me having the fullest experience as an actor."[15]

He is known for his portrayal of Remy Danton in the Netflix series House of Cards, Cornell Stokes in Marvel's Luke Cage, Colonel Boggs in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 and Tizzy in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

His first major film role was that of Tizzy Weathers in the 2008 David Fincher-directed romantic fantasy drama film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Other notable films include Predators, The Place Beyond the Pines, Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures.

For his performance as mentor and drug dealer Juan in the drama film Moonlight (2016), Ali received universal acclaim from critics and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the SAG Award and the Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor and received a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award nomination. At the 89th Academy Awards, he was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar.[16]

In 2017, Ali joined the video game Madden NFL 18's story mode Longshot, in which he played Cutter Wade, the father of protagonist Devin.[17][18] He played Don Shirley in the 2018 film Green Book, receiving his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture[19] and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.[20]

Ali starred as Arkansas State Police detective Wayne Hays in the third season of the HBO series True Detective, which premiered on January 13, 2019, in the United States.[21] On Rotten Tomatoes, the site's critical consensus reads, "Driven by Mahershala Ali's mesmerizing performance, True Detective's third season finds fresh perspective by exploring real world events – though it loses some of the series' intriguing strangeness along the way."[22]

At the annual San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019, Ali was announced as being cast to play the supernatural superhero Blade in a future Marvel Cinematic Universe adaptation of the character, which was previously played by Wesley Snipes.[23]


Ali was signed to Bay Area recording label Hieroglyphics Imperium during the late 2000s and recorded rap music as Prince Ali.[24] In 2006, he released his first album, "Corner Ensemble", followed by "Curb Side Service" in 2007, but did not tour to promote the album, choosing instead to focus on his acting career.[25] In 2019, he made a guest appearance on Keith Murray's album "Lord Of The Metaphor 2" alongside Casual and Planet Asia, and in 2020, appeared on Riz Ahmed's album The Long Goodbye.

Personal life[edit]

Ali is an Ahmadi Muslim.[12]

He is married to Amatus Sami-Karim, an actress and musician.[26] Their first child, a daughter, was born in February 2017.[27]


Studio albums[edit]

  • Corner Ensemble (2006)
  • Curb Side Service (2007)



Year Title Role Notes
2003 Making Revolution Mac Laslow
2008 Umi's Heart Ezra Short film
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Tizzy Weathers
2009 Crossing Over Detective Strickland
2010 Predators Mombasa
Predators: Moments of Extraction Voice role; animated short film
2012 The Place Beyond the Pines Kofi Kancam
2013 Go for Sisters Dez
2014 Supremacy Deputy Rivers
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Boggs
2015 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
2016 Kicks Marlon
Gubagude Ko Ochoro Short film
Free State of Jones Moses Washington
The Realest Real The Minister Short film
Moonlight Juan
Hidden Figures Jim Johnson
2017 Roxanne Roxanne Cross
2018 Green Book Don Shirley
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Aaron Davis / The Prowler (voice)
2019 Alita: Battle Angel Vector
2021 Swan Song Milo Post-production; also producer
TBA Blade Eric Brooks / Blade Pre-production


Year Title Role Notes
2001–2002 Crossing Jordan Dr. Trey Sanders 19 episodes
2002 Haunted Alex Dalcour Episode: "Abby"
NYPD Blue Rashard Coleman Episode: "Das Boots"
2003 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Tombs' Security Guard Episode: "Lucky Strike"
The Handler N/A Episode: "Big Stones"
2003–2004 Threat Matrix Jelani Harper 15 episodes
2004–2007 The 4400 Richard Tyler 28 episodes
2009 Lie to Me Det. Don Hughes Episode: "Do No Harm"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Mark Foster Episode: "Unstable"
2010 The Wronged Man Calvin Willis Television film
All Signs of Death Gabe Unsold TV pilot
2011 Lights Out Death Row Reynolds Unaired pilot
2011–2012 Treme Anthony King 6 episodes
Alphas Nathan Clay 12 episodes
2012 Alcatraz Clarence Montgomery Episode: "Clarence Montgomery"
2013–2016 House of Cards Remy Danton 33 episodes
2016 Luke Cage Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes 6 episodes
2017 Comrade Detective Coach (voice) Episode: "Two Films for One Ticket"
2018 Room 104 Franco Episode: "Shark"
2019 True Detective Wayne Hays 8 episodes
2020 Race for the White House Narrator 6 episodes
Ramy Sheikh Ali Malik 6 episodes
2021 Invincible Titan (voice)

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2017 Madden 18: Longshot Cutter Wade [citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ Viera, Bene (August 15, 2016). "Mahershala Ali Quit House of Cards and Became Marvel's New Villain". GQ. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Spencer, Octavia (April 17, 2019). "Mahershala Ali". Time. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  3. ^ Dargis, Manohla; Scott, A.O. (November 25, 2020). "The 25 greatest actors of the 21st century (so far)". The New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Yglesias, Matthew. "Oscars 2019 milestones: Black Panther and Roma broke boundaries". Vox. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  5. ^ Gutthman, Edward (December 5, 2018). "Mahershala Ali Talks About Life After Oscar the son of Phillip Gilmore". Oakland Magazine. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  6. ^ Gentile, Dan (February 12, 2020). "Mahershala Ali talks BART, his favorite Bay Area restaurant and new Oakland film". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Galloway, Stephen (February 15, 2017). "'Moonlight' Breakout Mahershala Ali in His Own Words: A Personal Journey From Childhood Upheaval to Spiritual Awakening". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d Ali, Mahershala (October 22, 2011). "Mahershala Ali ('96)". Saint Mary's College of California. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Viera, Bené. "Mahershala Ali Quit House of Cards and Became Marvel's New Villain". GQ. Archived from the original on January 6, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2017.
  10. ^ Mic. "Who is Mahershala Ali's wife? How Amatus-Sami Karim helped him convert to Islam". Retrieved February 27, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ ESPN (February 24, 2019). "Before becoming a two-time #Oscars winner, Mahershala Ali (then Gilmore) played D-I basketball at St. Mary's from 1992-96. (via @TheUndefeated, @WCCsports)". Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  12. ^ a b "Will Mahershala Ali be the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar?". February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  13. ^ "Moonlight's Mahershala Ali: anti-Islam prejudice 'not a shock' if you have grown up black". Guardian. February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  14. ^ "By the Dawns Early Light: Short Stories by American Converts to Islam" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 2, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
  15. ^ a b c d Desta, Yohana (October 20, 2016). "Mahershala Ali Is Everywhere—and He's Only Getting Started". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  16. ^ Crum, Maddie (February 26, 2017). "Mahershala Ali Becomes The First Muslim Actor To Win An Oscar". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  17. ^ Carter, Chris (June 10, 2017). "Madden is getting a story mode with Mahershala Ali". Destructoid. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  18. ^ Smith, Joel (August 22, 2017). "Madden NFL 18's Longshot Proves to Be a Real Touchdown". Operation Sports. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  19. ^ "Golden Globe Awards 2019 Winners: The Complete List". E! News. January 6, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  20. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2019: The winners in full". February 10, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  21. ^ Mitovich, Matt Webb (October 11, 2018). "True Detective Season 3 Gets 2019 Premiere Date, First Photos". TVLine. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  22. ^ "True Detective: Season 3 (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  23. ^ 'Blade' Being Rebooted By Marvel With Mahershala Ali; 'Fantastic Four' Also In The Works
  24. ^ "'Moonlight' Oscar-Winner Mahershala Ali Used to Be a Rapper".
  25. ^, HipHopDX -. "Tajai Of Souls Of Mischief Talks Mahershala Ali's Days As A Rapper Signed To Hiero Imperium". Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  26. ^ "AMATUS ARTIST COMPOSER ACTOR". Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  27. ^ "Mahershala Ali welcomes first child with wife Amatus Sami-Karim". USA Today. Retrieved March 21, 2017.

External links[edit]