Mahershala Ali
Ali at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore

(1974-02-16) February 16, 1974 (age 49)
Other namesMahershala Karim-Ali,
Hershal Gilmore (formerly)
EducationSaint Mary's College, California (BA)
New York University (MFA)
Years active2001–present
Amatus Sami-Karim
(m. 2013)
AwardsFull list

Mahershala Ali (/məˈhɜːrʃələ/ mə-HUR-shə-lə;[1] born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore on 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 Crossing Jordan (2001–02) and Threat Matrix (2003–04), before his breakthrough role as Richard Tyler in the science fiction series The 4400 (2004–07). 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 original 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] Ali won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program for executive producing We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest (2020).

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), and voiced Aaron Davis in the animated films Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023).

Early life

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


Ali attended St. Mary's College of California (SMC) in Moraga, California, where he graduated in 1996 with a degree in mass communication as a first-generation college student.[9][11] He entered SMC with a basketball scholarship and went by the name "Hershal Gilmore" when playing for the SMC Gaels.[12] 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 was known professionally by his full name, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, from 2001 until 2010, when he began to be credited as Mahershala Ali.[9][13] 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.[13] 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.[13]

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."[13]

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.[14]

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.[15][16] 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[17] and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.[18]

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.[19] 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."[20]

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.[21]


Ali was signed to Bay Area recording label Hieroglyphics Imperium during the late 2000s and recorded rap music as Prince Ali.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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 described being the subject of racial profiling at airports and banks following the September 11 attacks.[25][26][27]

He is married to Amatus Sami-Karim, an actress and musician.[28] Their first child, a daughter, was born in February 2017.[29]

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.[30]

In October 2023, Ali signed a letter calling for a ceasefire in the 2023 Israel-Hamas War.[31][32] In January 2024, he showed further support for Palestinians in Gaza by reciting the poem "Longing for Haifa" by Palestinian poet Mohammed al-Qudwa in a video for social media, and encouraging his followers to donate to al-Qudwa's fundraiser so that the poet and his family could leave the Gaza Strip.[33]


Studio albums



Year Title Role Notes
2003 Making Revolution Mac Laslow Credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
2008 Umi's Heart Ezra Short film, as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Tizzy Credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
2009 Crossing Over Detective Strickland
2010 Predators Mombasa
The Wronged Man Calvin Willis Television film
All Signs of Death Gabe Unsold TV pilot
2012 The Place Beyond the Pines Kofi
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
The Realest Real The Minister Short film
Moonlight Juan
Hidden Figures Colonel Jim Johnson
2017 Roxanne Roxanne Cross
2018 Green Book Doctor Donald Shirley
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Aaron Davis / Prowler Voice
2019 Alita: Battle Angel Vector
2021 Eternals Eric Brooks / Blade Uncredited voice cameo appearance
Swan Song Cameron / Jack Also producer
2023 Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Aaron Davis Voice
Leave the World Behind George G.H. Scott
2025 Wildwood Brenden In production


Year Title Role Notes
2001–2002 Crossing Jordan Dr. Trey Sanders 19 episodes, credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
2002 Haunted Alex Dalcour Episode: "Abby",credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
NYPD Blue Rashard Coleman Episode: "Das Boots", credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
2003 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Tombs' Security Guard Episode: "Lucky Strike", as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
The Handler Episode: "Big Stones"
2003–2004 Threat Matrix Jelani Harper 15 episodes
2004–2007 The 4400 Richard Tyler 28 episodes, as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
2009 Lie to Me Det. Don Hughes Episode: "Do No Harm", credited as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Mark Foster Episode: "Unstable"
2011–2012 Treme Anthony King 6 episodes, as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Alphas Nathan Clay 12 episodes
2012 Alcatraz Clarence Montgomery Episode: "Clarence Montgomery"
2013–2016 House of Cards Remy Danton 33 episodes
2016 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver City Hall Informant Episode: "Journalism"
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 Ramy Sheikh Ali Malik 6 episodes
2021 Invincible Titan Voice, 2 episodes
2023 Chimp Empire Narrator 4 episodes
TBA The Plot Jake Filming, Miniseries

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2017 Madden NFL 18 Cutter Wade [34]


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


  1. ^ "Mahershala Ali Breaks Down His Career, from 'Moonlight' to 'Swan Song' | Vanity Fair". YouTube. Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 17, 2023.
  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. Archived from the original on December 1, 2020. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  4. ^ Mark Olsen (March 15, 2021). "Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim nominated for lead actor Oscar". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 20, 2022. 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. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
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  7. ^ Gutthman, Edward (December 5, 2018). "Mahershala Ali Talks About Life After Oscar". Oakland Magazine. Archived from the original on July 15, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  8. ^ Gentile, Dan (February 12, 2020). "Mahershala Ali talks BART, his favorite Bay Area restaurant and new Oakland film". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on July 12, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d Ali, Mahershala (October 22, 2011). "Mahershala Ali ('96)". Saint Mary's College of California. Archived from the original on March 2, 2019. 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. ^ "Mahershala Ali '96: Inspiring SMC Students to Reach Their Full Potential | Saint Mary's College". Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  12. ^ 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)". Archived from the original on March 17, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d Desta, Yohana (October 20, 2016). "Mahershala Ali Is Everywhere—and He's Only Getting Started". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on April 17, 2021. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  14. ^ Crum, Maddie (February 26, 2017). "Mahershala Ali Becomes The First Muslim Actor To Win An Oscar". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on October 1, 2018. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  15. ^ Carter, Chris (June 10, 2017). "Madden is getting a story mode with Mahershala Ali". Destructoid. Archived from the original on August 6, 2020. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  16. ^ Smith, Joel (August 22, 2017). "Madden NFL 18's Longshot Proves to Be a Real Touchdown". Operation Sports. Archived from the original on August 26, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
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  18. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2019: The winners in full". February 10, 2019. Archived from the original on February 10, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  19. ^ Mitovich, Matt Webb (October 11, 2018). "True Detective Season 3 Gets 2019 Premiere Date, First Photos". TVLine. Archived from the original on October 13, 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  20. ^ "True Detective: Season 3 (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on December 13, 2019. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  21. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 21, 2019). "'Blade' Being Rebooted By Marvel With Mahershala Ali; 'Fantastic Four' Also In The Works". Archived from the original on July 21, 2019. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  22. ^ "'Moonlight' Oscar-Winner Mahershala Ali Used to Be a Rapper". Billboard.
  23. ^ "Tajai Of Souls Of Mischief Talks Mahershala Ali's Days As A Rapper Signed To Hiero Imperium". HipHopDX. February 28, 2017. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  24. ^ Hus Kingpin "House of Kingpin" (Hosted by Remy Danton of Netflix's 'House Of Cards'), October 9, 2015, archived from the original on September 12, 2022, retrieved September 8, 2022
  25. ^ "Will Mahershala Ali be the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar?". February 21, 2017. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  26. ^ "Moonlight's Mahershala Ali: anti-Islam prejudice 'not a shock' if you have grown up black". Guardian. February 21, 2017. Archived from the original on April 14, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ "AMATUS ARTIST COMPOSER ACTOR". Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  29. ^ "Mahershala Ali welcomes first child with wife Amatus Sami-Karim". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 22, 2017. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  30. ^ Mahershala Ali Is the Most Hip-Hop Man in Hollywood, January 30, 2017, archived from the original on September 5, 2022, retrieved September 5, 2022
  31. ^ "Artists Call for Ceasefire Now". Artists4Ceasefire. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  32. ^ Murphy, J. Kim (October 20, 2023). "Joaquin Phoenix, Cate Blanchett and More Stars Demand Joe Biden Call for Israel-Gaza Ceasefire: 'Compassion Must Prevail'". Variety. Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  33. ^ التحرير, فريق (January 11, 2024). "الممثل الأميركي ماهرشالا علي يلقي قصيدة "الشوق إلى حيفا"". ويست كرونيكالز (in Arabic). Retrieved January 12, 2024.
  34. ^ Hinog, Mark (June 10, 2017). "'Madden NFL 18' will have a story mode with Mahershala Ali and a Dan Marino cameo". Retrieved August 31, 2023.