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 49)
Other namesMahershala Karim-Ali,
Hershal Gilmore
EducationSaint Mary's College, California (BA)
New York University (MFA)
Years active2001–present
Amatus Sami-Karim
(m. 2013)
AwardsFull list

Mahershala Ali (/məˈhɜːrʃələ/; born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, February 16, 1974) is an American actor. He has received multiple accolades, including two Academy Awards, 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] and in 2020, The New York Times ranked him among 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 role 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 in House of Cards, for which he received his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

Ali won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances as a drug dealer in the drama Moonlight (2016) and as Don Shirley in the comedy-drama film Green Book (2018). He is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar,[4] the first Black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same category, and the second Black actor to win multiple acting Oscars.[5]

In 2019, he played 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 was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for both performances. Ali has also played Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes in the first season of the Netflix series Luke Cage (2016).

Early life and education

Ali was born on February 16, 1974, in Oakland, California,[6][7] the son of Willicia Goines (born 1957) and Phillip Gilmore (1956–1994).[8] He was raised as a Christian in Hayward, California by his mother, an ordained Baptist minister whose mother, Evia Goines, was also an ordained minister at Palma Ceia Baptist Church in Hayward, CA.[9][10][8] His father was an actor who appeared on Broadway.[10][8] Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the name of the prophet Isaiah's second child (chapter 8, Book of Isaiah).[8]

He attended St. Mary's College of California (SMC) in Moraga, California, where he graduated in 1996 with a degree in mass communication.[9] 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, which 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.[9]



Ali at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con
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.[9][12] 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.[12] 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.[12]

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."[12]

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. 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.[13]

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.[14][15] 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[16] and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.[17]

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.[18] 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."[19]

Ali at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival

At the annual San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019, Ali was announced as being cast to play the supernatural superhero Blade in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film of the same name, which was previously played by Wesley Snipes.[20]


Ali was signed to Bay Area recording label Hieroglyphics Imperium during the late 2000s and recorded rap music as Prince Ali.[21] 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.[22] In 2015 Ali appeared on rap artist Hus Kingpin album "House Of Cards" lending his voice to skits and rapping on the track entitled "House Of Card Gods" using his moniker .[23]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

Ali converted to Ahmadiyya Islam in 2000, changing his surname from Gilmore to Ali. In interviews, he has claimed being the subject of racial profiling at airports and banks following the September 11 attacks.[24][25][26]

He is married to Amatus Sami-Karim, an actress and musician.[27] Their first child, a daughter, was born in February 2017.[28]

Ali is a fan of hip hop and has said within various interviews that Planet Asia, Roc Marciano, Mach-Hommy, Pink Siifu, Fly Anakin & Mutant Academy, Mick Jenkins, Sage Elsesser, EARTHGANG, Westside Gunn, Hus Kingpin & SmooVth are amongst his favorite artists.[29]


Studio albums



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 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Hidden Figures Jim Johnson
2017 Roxanne Roxanne Cross
2018 Green Book Don Shirley Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Aaron Davis / Prowler Voice role; animated film
2019 Alita: Battle Angel Vector
2021 Eternals Eric Brooks / Blade Uncredited voice cameo in post-credits scene
Swan Song Cameron / Jack Also producer
2023 Leave the World Behind dagger G.H. Post-production
2024 Blade dagger Eric Brooks / Blade Pre-production
TBA Wildwood dagger TBA In 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 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 Detective Wayne Hays 8 episodes
2020 Race for the White House Narrator 6 episodes
Ramy Sheikh Ali Malik 6 episodes
2021 Invincible Titan (voice) 2 episodes

Video games

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


Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Mahershala Ali



  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. ^ Mark Olsen (March 15, 2021). "Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim nominated for lead actor Oscar". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 19, 2022. Actor Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar when he took home the statuette for supporting actor for 'Moonlight' in 2017 and won the same prize in 2019 for 'Green Book.'
  5. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (February 24, 2019). "Oscars 2019 milestones: Black Panther and Roma broke boundaries". Vox. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  6. ^ Gutthman, Edward (December 5, 2018). "Mahershala Ali Talks About Life After Oscar the son of Phillip Gilmore". Oakland Magazine. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b c d Ali, Mahershala (October 22, 2011). "Mahershala Ali ('96)". Saint Mary's College of California. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Viera, Bené (August 15, 2016). "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.
  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 c d Desta, Yohana (October 20, 2016). "Mahershala Ali Is Everywhere—and He's Only Getting Started". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  13. ^ Crum, Maddie (February 26, 2017). "Mahershala Ali Becomes The First Muslim Actor To Win An Oscar". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  14. ^ Carter, Chris (June 10, 2017). "Madden is getting a story mode with Mahershala Ali". Destructoid. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  15. ^ Smith, Joel (August 22, 2017). "Madden NFL 18's Longshot Proves to Be a Real Touchdown". Operation Sports. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  16. ^ "Golden Globe Awards 2019 Winners: The Complete List". E! News. January 6, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  17. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2019: The winners in full". February 10, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  18. ^ Mitovich, Matt Webb (October 11, 2018). "True Detective Season 3 Gets 2019 Premiere Date, First Photos". TVLine. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  19. ^ "True Detective: Season 3 (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  20. ^ 'Blade' Being Rebooted By Marvel With Mahershala Ali; 'Fantastic Four' Also In The Works
  21. ^ "'Moonlight' Oscar-Winner Mahershala Ali Used to Be a Rapper". Billboard.
  22. ^ "Tajai Of Souls Of Mischief Talks Mahershala Ali's Days As A Rapper Signed To Hiero Imperium". HipHopDX. February 28, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  23. ^ Hus Kingpin "House of Kingpin" (Hosted by Remy Danton of Netflix's 'House Of Cards'), October 9, 2015, retrieved September 8, 2022
  24. ^ "Will Mahershala Ali be the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar?". February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  25. ^ "Moonlight's Mahershala Ali: anti-Islam prejudice 'not a shock' if you have grown up black". Guardian. February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "AMATUS ARTIST COMPOSER ACTOR". Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  28. ^ "Mahershala Ali welcomes first child with wife Amatus Sami-Karim". USA Today. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  29. ^ Mahershala Ali Is the Most Hip-Hop Man in Hollywood, January 30, 2017, retrieved September 5, 2022