Mahershala Ali Gave A Powerful Speech About Converting To Islam

Photo: Steve Granitz/Getty Images.
In the film Moonlight, Mahershala Ali plays a kindly drug dealer named Juan who takes the main character, Chiron (played at that point by Alex Hibbert) under his wing. At his young age, Chiron is already the focus of negative attention among his peers for what is regarded as a feminine demeanor.

"At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you're going to be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you," Juan tells Chiron in the film.

Tonight, when Ali won a SAG Award for best actor in a supporting role, he used Chiron's story as a metaphor for persecution in general.

"What I've learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves," he said. "And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to plan Juan was playing a gentlemen who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered... I hope that we do a better job of that."

This tale of persecution is particularly relevant to Ali, who was born a Christian and later converted to Islam. Currently, the country faces an immigrant ban that is particularly focused on followers of Islam. Ali pointed out that the details about people — the "minutiae" — can be seen as the texture of a person, or they can be seen as a threat. His "minutiae" is that he is a Muslim — his mother is a Christian.

"My mother is an ordained minister. I'm a Muslim," he said. "She didn't do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you know, we put things to the side. And I'm able to see her — she's able to see me. We love each other. That love has grown. And that stuff is minutiae."

Watch the full video of Ali's speech, below.
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