Mahershala Ali won his first Oscar on Sunday for his supporting role in Moonlight, kicking off what could be a big night for diversity at the Academy Awards.
Ali, 43, who played the mentor to a young black boy in Moonlight, was one of a record seven actors of colour nominated for Oscars this year, along with films that ranged from overlooked African-American female math geniuses (Hidden Figures) to interracial marriage (Loving) and black incarceration rates in modern United States society (13th).
A first-time nominee, Ali became the first Muslim film star to pick up a golden statuette for acting, reported AFP. He saw off competition from Britain’s Dev Patel, veteran US actors Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon and newcomer Lucas Hedges.
“I want to thank my teachers, my professors,” Ali said. “One thing that they consistently told me… ‘It’s not about you. It’s about these characters. You are a servant. You’re in service to these stories and these characters’.”
He thanked his fellow cast members – and his wife, who gave birth to their first child, a baby girl, just days earlier.