Oscars 2017: ‘Moonlight’ Star Mahershala Ali Is the First Muslim to Win an Acting Oscar

Oscar history! As Alicia Vikander called Mahershala Ali’s name from the stage at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26, the Moonlight star, 43, became the first Muslim actor ever to win an Oscar. Watch his speech in the video above and watch the live blog here!

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“It’s about these characters. You are a servant,” the Best Supporting Actor winner told the crowd in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. “You’re in service to these stories and these characters, and I’m so blessed to have had an opportunity.”

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The House of Cards vet — who welcomed his first child with artist and composer Amatus Sami-Karim on Friday, February 24 — thanked “my wife, who is in her third trimester during award season,” and said, “We just had a daughter three days ago. I just want to thank her for being such a soldier throughout this process and help and really carry me through it all, so thank you.” 

Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) were also up for the Best Supporting Actor award.

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Ali’s Oscar nomination was one of eight for the coming-of-age film, in which he plays Juan, a compassionate Miami drug dealer who takes a fatherless boy (Alex Hibbert) under his wing. 

The role resonated with the Oakland, California–raised actor, whose own dad moved out when he was 4 years old. “I didn’t have one black male professor or teacher my entire life,” he told The New York Times in October 2016. “For myriad reasons, there’s a lack of a strong presence of African American men to help lead some of these young men and to be role models. So many of us need a Juan in our lives at some point.”

Ali went public with his faith during a moving plea for tolerance at the Screen Actors Guild awards on January 29, just days after Donald Trump ordered a travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. 

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“I think what I have learned from working on Moonlight, you see what happens in persecution,” he said in his Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech. “What I was so grateful about and having the opportunity was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community, and taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him he mattered, that he was OK. And accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that.” 

“I normally wouldn’t do that,” he admitted to the Los Angeles Times following the ceremony. “I’m not one to reveal a bunch of things about my personal life.… I thought there was something there that I could offer people in what is a really challenging time, for Muslims and for everyone.”  

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