The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are airing live from Los Angeles on TNT and TBS

By EW Staff and People Staff
January 29, 2017 08:36 PM
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Mahershala Ali
Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The first time’s the charm for Mahershala Ali.

The actor, who played drug dealer–turned–father figure Juan in Moonlight, won for outstanding supporting actor in a motion picture at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles Sunday.

Ali became emotional while accepting the award, using his time on stage to share a touching story about the love his mother, an ordained Christian minister, found over time after he converted to Islam.

“You know, when we kind of get caught up in the minutia, the details that make us different, I think there are two ways of seeing that,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique. And then there’s an opportunity to go to war about it, and to say that that person is different from me and I don’t like you, so let’s battle.”

“My mother is an ordained minister, I’m a Muslim,” he continued. “She didn’t do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, you put things to the side. And I’m able to see her, and she’s able to see me. We love each other and the love has grown. And that stuff is minutia. It’s not that important.”

Ali also held back tears as he talked about his what he learned while working Moonlight and how his character inspired him as a man.

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“I think what I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when you persecute people,” he said. “They fold into themselves. I was so grateful about having the opportunity to play a gentleman 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, that he was okay and accept him.”

“I hope that we do a better job of that,” he concluded.

Ali has been a familiar face along the awards show circuit this season, nabbing an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe nomination and a Critics’ Choice win for his role in the moving Barry Jenkins drama. Though he’s been nominated for five other SAG Awards as a member of ensemble casts, this is his first solo nomination and win.

“Simply put, it was the best thing I’ve ever read,” Ali recalled to Entertainment Weekly in October of reading Moonlight‘s script for the first time. “These are all people we grew up with but never had their space on camera…I remember just being so moved by how specifically these characters were all drawn, how unique the story was, and feeling like I knew these people.”

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He beat out Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea), and Dev Patel (Lion) for the prize.

The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are airing live from Los Angeles on TNT and TBS.

Rachel DeSantis and Jodi Guglielmi