Mahershala Ali took home an Oscar Sunday night for his supporting role in Green Book. He chose first to honor Dr. Donald Shirley, the Black, queer man he played in the Peter Farrelly-directed picture.
“I want to thank Dr. Shirley… Trying to capture [his] essence pushed me to my ends which is a reflection of the person he was and the life that he lived,” Ali said.
Based on a true story, the picture follows Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a working-class, casually racist bouncer who becomes the driver of Dr. Shirley, a black classical pianist (Ali) on a tour of venues through a Jim Crow-era South. In order to avoid the potentially fatal ignorance that comes with the task at hand — for Dr. Shirley, that is — Lip must make use of his Italian charm and The Negro Motorist’s Green Book — a publication used by Black travelers in the South that listed the restaurants and hotels that would serve them. On the tour, the pair begin a lifelong relationship as friends that upends their initial prejudices.
While the film has had a rocky path this award season, with Shirley’s family calling the film out for glaring inaccuracies, Ali’s win was a shoo-in as he took home just about every award possible including the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and the SAG Award. The other men in his category included A Star Is Born’s Sam Elliot, Vice’s Sam Rockwell, Can You Ever Forgive Me?’s Richard E. Grant, and BlacKkKlansman’s Adam Driver.
This is the second time the actor has been nominated, and won, for his role in a film with LGBTQ+ themes. In 2017, he won the same award for Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight about a young boy coming of age and coming into his sexuality.
Ali dedicated his Green Book win to his grandmother “who has been in my ear my entire life, telling me that if at first I don't succeed, try, try again, that I could do anything I put my mind to, always pushing me to think positively.”