Mahershala after Moonlight…and Jay Z

Lainey Posted by Lainey at June 19, 2017 17:18:03 June 19, 2017 17:18:03

I haven’t written about Mahershala Ali since a couple of weeks after he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight. It was a long award season. He’d just become a father. He took a break, to be with his family, to process the milestone year he’d just had. Because, of course, it’s different. Mahershala Ali winning an Oscar isn’t the same as Jared Leto winning an Oscar. Jared Leto wins an Oscar and he can go on being the same asshole, with more opportunities to be an asshole. Mahershala Ali wins an Oscar, the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, and yet, as he tells GQ this month, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can stop, as “a large black man”, trying to “make people feel safer”. Or that he won’t get stopped while walking down the street by cops in Berkeley and asked to show his ID.

The GQ profile, written by Carvell Wallace, is gorgeous. Too gorgeous to excerpt because it’s written about Mahershala through the personal lens of Carvell – without taking anything away from the subject, a delicate balance to maintain for a writer, requiring all kinds of skill and technique but also done in a way where the skill and the technique are part of the flow of the piece. And on top of all that, what makes this piece different is that it’s not one of those generic articles about an actor fresh off his Oscar win and how much shine to light up his ass because between both of them there’s an understanding – again, Mahershala’s win is not like most Oscar wins in that they can be claimed as a singular achievement, restricted indulgently to the person who now owns that trophy. Rather, Mahershala’s win unavoidably has its own layered context, its borders both narrow, in that, unfortunately, he is in rare company, and expansive, because within that company there is a shared experience that has been felt by several generations. This perspective is summed up beautifully in Carvell Wallace’s final paragraph:

On the way to my car (after our interview), I think about how few people there are like (Mahershala Ali). A man who holds an Oscar and a man from whom people hide their jewelry. His daily work is to make a living by being twice as indestructible, twice as powerful, yet half as threatening as an average white man. He is a winner in a country that seems to want people like him to lose. And perhaps, as he said, that can be misused as some kind of lazy peace offering. Here is a black man whose success proves that there’s nothing wrong at all. What’s everyone whining about? Anyone can do it. You just have to be extraordinarily talented, extraordinarily hardworking, extraordinarily forgiving, extraordinarily ambitious, extraordinarily good-looking, extraordinarily well-dressed, and extraordinarily lucky. You just have to know how to make winning look a hell of a lot easier than it really is.

Click here to read Carvell Wallace’s profile on Mahershala Ali in GQ. And in other Mahershala news, here he is, with Danny Glover, in a new video to promote Jay Z’s upcoming album 4:44.


Many are speculating that 4:44, like Lemonade, will be a visual album. When Blue Ivy was born, Jay immediately released a track called Glory that included her heartbeat and her crying. Now that the twins are here, perhaps this is how we will be introduced to them for the first time.


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