The actor Mahershala Ali, whose performance in the widely acclaimed Moonlighthas made him a favourite for the best supporting actor Academy award, has spoken out about the discrimination he has experienced as an African American and a Muslim.
Ali said he found out that he was on an FBI watchlist after 9/11 and that, as a black man, anti-Islam prejudice “does not feel like a shock”.
Speaking to the Radio Times, he said: “If you convert to Islam after a couple of decades of being a black man in the US, the discrimination you receive as a Muslim doesn’t feel like a shock. I’ve been pulled over, asked where my gun is, asked if I’m a pimp, had my car pulled apart. Muslims will feel like there’s this new discrimination that they hadn’t received before – but it’s not new for us.”
Ali, who was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore and whose mother, Willicia, was an ordained Christian minister, converted to Islam in 1999 and joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 2001.
Having made his name in popular TV series such as The 4400, Treme and House of Cards (in which he played corporate lobbyist Remy Danton), Ali was cast in major roles in films such as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 and 2, Free State of Jones, and Hidden Figures.
For his role in Moonlight, Ali has received more than 25 best supporting actor awards, including the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice – though he lost out at the Golden Globes to Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Nocturnal Animals and the Baftas to Dev Patel for Lion.
Ali said his wife, the artist and musician Amatus Sami-Karim, had also experienced discrimination and no longer felt safe walking down the street.
“My wife stopped wrapping [wearing a headscarf] in New York … as she had so many bad experiences. She didn’t feel safe anymore.”
Ali said an airport worker had let slip he was on an FBI watchlist after 9/11 and that his accountant told him “his name had been flagged” when he tried to rent a property and discovered his funds had been frozen.
The actor’s comments come at a time when Hollywood is gearing up to protest against the US travel ban, which has triggered mass dissent among American diplomats as well as wider objections to its apparent targeting of Muslims.
Among the high-profile victims of the ban is Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, whose attendance at the Academy Awards ceremony on 26 February – where his latest movie, The Salesman, is nominated for best foreign language film – was thrown into doubt after his native country, Iran, was included in the list of seven states banned by the executive order issued on 27 January.