Who is Mahershala Ali? The rise of the Oscar-nominated actor

Mahershala Ali has been nominated for an Oscar. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Who is Mahershala Ali? The rise of the Oscar-nominated actor

DUBAI: Movie geeks are abuzz for this year’s Academy Awards, following revelations that several nominees could make history for the 91-year-old ceremony.

Among them, Mahershala Ali could win an Oscar for his performance in “Green Book,” and become the fastest star to win two awards in the same category.

The 44-year-old won Best Supporting Actor in 2017 for “Moonlight” when he again made history as the first Muslim to triumph in the category.

Ali, born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore to a Christian mother in Oakland, California in 1974, converted to Islam in 1999.

“It just felt like a life sign. I’d come from sports, so I appreciated the discipline that the religion requires. For me, it was a way of living more deliberately,” said Ali.

He added, in an interview with British magazine the Radio Times: “I felt I was connecting to something that was making my physical experience more peaceful.”

Hollywood has been criticized recently for its lack of diversity, and more and more actors have become increasingly vocal about the Academy’s need to better represent US society.

Winners in the past have often used their acceptance speeches to talk about race, identity and other contentious issues.

When Ali received an award for “Moonlight” at the 2017 Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, he addressed being Muslim and his relationship with his Christian mother.

“My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do back flips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago,” he said.

But he discounted the idea that differing faiths need drive people apart, highlighting how their differences never hurt their relationship, saying: “We love each other. The love has grown.”

Ali kicked off his career in the early noughties, after graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After completing his education, Ali was cast in a small indie film, “Making Revolution” (2003), and went on to earn small roles in TV shows before he scored a role in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” alongside Brad Pitt. After earning an Emmy nomination in 2016 for his part on Netflix show “House of Cards,” Ali took on a variety of roles and appears in the latest season of “True Detective” as the lead character.


Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

Jana Ghalayini’s work at Art Dubai invited visitors to draw on their responses.
Updated 25 May 2019
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Creative group in the UAE gives female artists a chance to tell their story

  • Female-led art collective wants society to rethink the way women of color are perceived
  • Banat Collective publishes artworks in print and online and hosts events to encourage debate

DUBAI: Sara bin Safwan founded the Banat Collective in 2016 to connect with other like-minded people, championing
their art through the group’s website, banatcollective.com.
The group aims to help society to rethink the way women of color are perceived by showcasing contemporary art, poetry and other writings. The collective publishes artistic works in print and online and hosts events aimed at spreading awareness and encouraging debate.
“A lot of the artists are young and emerging and never had the chance to be either exhibited or publicized, so we interview them to offer a critical, insightful look at their work,” said Safwan, 25.


Now an assistant curator at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Safwan graduated from London’s world-famous Central Saint Martins college in 2015 with a degree in culture, criticism and curation.
It was while studying in Britain that she developed a keen interest in post-colonial theory; the Banat Collective focuses on themes relating to both womanhood and intersectionality, which is an analytic framework to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those most marginalized in society.
“The mission is not only to connect artists but open up discussions about Arab womanhood in the region, because there’s not necessarily any other place to do so. We do that through art, poetry and other writings,” Safwan said.
“I use the word ‘womanhood’ to make it a more accessible term because if I use ‘feminism,’ it’s a very politically charged word that has almost been tainted by Western ideologies. And those Western ideologies don’t necessarily fit within our context as Middle Easterners.”
“In the Middle of it All” is the collective’s debut publication. Released in 2018, the book is a 31-artist collaboration of visual art, writing and poetry. Our book is a means to help us stand out — it’s thoughtfully curated and tackles a specific issue, which is ‘coming of age’,” she says.
“It’s a notion that’s taboo in the Arab world and either unheard of or misunderstood. It was a chance for female artists to tell their own story.
“Throughout the book, we go through many topics such as puberty, identity, sexual harassment and abuse, sisterhood, motherhood, beauty standards and all these other societal expectations.”
The collective held its first exhibition as part of March’s Art Dubai fair, showcasing a short film, “Ivory Stitches & Saviors” by member Sarah Alagroobi, which she describes as an “unflinching glimpse into identity, colonialism and whitewashing.”
Says Safwan: “It’s a tribute to all women of color who have been marginalized and, all too often, erased.”
Another work by Palestinian-Canadian artist Jana Ghalayini is comprised of a 26-meter-long piece of chiffon on which visitors can draw with chalk pastels in response to questions posed by the artist including “How does your environment affect your identity?”
Safwan adds: “The themes we explored were vulnerability and community — it was a way to introduce ourselves in person because previously we only had an online presence.”
Born and raised in the UAE to Honduran and Emirati parents, Safwan is now working with Alagroobi and Ghalayini to brainstorm ideas for future projects that include a podcast series on the notion of shame. The collective is self-funded and run by volunteers.
“I hope there will be more opportunities to showcase our work and collaborate with others. This year, we will be publishing more content,” Safwan said.