The Culture

Mahershala Ali wins best supporting actor Oscar in 'Moonlight'

'Moonlight' is also nominated for best picture and best director for Barry Jenkins. Ali also starred in the best picture nominee 'Hidden Figures.'

Mahershala Ali (l.) and Alex Hibbert star in 'Moonlight.'
David Bornfriend/A24/AP/File
|
Caption

Actor Mahershala Ali has won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his work in the 2016 film “Moonlight.”

Mr. Ali portrays Juan, a drug dealer who befriends protagonist Chiron (Alex Hibbert). “Moonlight” is also nominated for such awards as best picture, best director, and best supporting actress for Naomie Harris.

Ali also appeared in multiple other projects this year, including another best picture nominee – the story of African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1960s, “Hidden Figures” – as well as the Netflix superhero series “Luke Cage” and the movie “Free State of Jones.” 

In his review of “Moonlight,” Monitor film critic Peter Rainer wrote that “Full-out, richly layered acting need not clash with the mood, as triumphantly demonstrated by Ali, Harris, [André] Holland, and [Janelle] Monáe. There may not be a better quartet of performances in a single movie this year.”  

In an interview with Indiewire, Ali said, “I had an emotional reaction to this project ['Moonlight']. That’s not par for the course for me. I could see and hear the characters, and had a good sense of the world. And I had wanted to work with Barry. It was the best ­– if more difficult – work experiences of my life.” 

Barry Jenkins is nominated for best director and best adapted screenplay, the latter of which he shares with Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play on which the film is based, "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue."

Mr. Jenkins said in an interview with The A.V. Club that he hoped the characters in his film, including Juan, went against stereotypes. 

"Tarell and I knew people like this growing up,” Jenkins said. “They exist. Juan is not the 'magical Negro' who sells drugs and teaches kids how to swim. Tarell was actually taught how to swim by a local drug dealer. I’m sure there are men just like him all over the country, who are doing some untoward things, but on the other hand, also do some very charitable and nurturing things. There’s room within these men for multitudes.”