Mahershala Ali may now be an Oscar-winning actor, but he is still adjusting to his newfound fame.
In a cover story for GQ, the 43-year-old opened up about how his life has dramatically changed since starring in Moonight. He says he went from being watched in department stores to being nationally adored practically overnight.
“When suddenly you go from being followed in Barneys to being fawned over, it will mess with your head,” Ali said.
For practically his whole life, Ali says his name and skin color have made him a target of racism.
“Walking down the street in Berkeley and some cops roll up on you and say straight up, ‘Give me your ID,’ and you’re like, ‘What the f—?’ ” he said.
The Luke Cage actor also recalled riding the subway and seeing people hide their jewelry with the assumption he would attempt to steal from them.
Ali has also said his name, which is actually the Hebrew name Mahershalalhashbaz, landed him on a terrorist watch list after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They would be like, ‘Yeah, your name matches the name of a terrorist,’ ” he previously told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I was like, ‘What terrorist is running around with a Hebrew first name and an Arabic last name? Who’s that guy?’ ”
Watch: Mahershala Ali On The Similarities in His ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Luke Cage’ Roles
His prior experiences and the current political climate have made being a black man in America complicated, he said.
“I think African-Americans have a very convoluted relationship with patriotism,” Ali explained. “The fact is, we essentially were the abused child. We still love the parent, but you can’t overlook the fact that we have a very convoluted relationship with the parent. I absolutely love this country, but like so many people have some real questions and concerns about how things have gone down over the years and where we’re at. And that’s from a place of love, because I want the country to be what it says it is on paper.”
“It benefits me from the standpoint of really creating empathy for these characters that I try to embody, other human beings with issues as deep and personal as my own. Because of Islam, I am acutely aware that I am a work in progress.” He said his faith “puts a healthy pressure on you to be your best self, beginning with your own spirit and how that feeds into your actions.”