Mahershala Ali took home his second supporting actor Oscar in three years on Sunday night, for his role as the black pianist Don Shirley in “Green Book,” a film that has been one of the most heavily criticized of awards season. The movie tells the story of Shirley, his white driver, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and their friendship as they toured the South in 1962.
Ali joined Denzel Washington as the only other black actor to win multiple Oscars.
But Ali’s wins were unusual in how close they were to each other. Two years ago, Ali won for his supporting performance in “Moonlight.” Washington won best actor for “Training Day” (2001) and supporting actor for “Glory” (1989) more than a decade apart.
Other prominent black actors who have won Oscars include Sidney Poitier, who in 1964, became the first African-American to win best actor for “Lillies of the Field.” He later won an honorary Oscar in 2001.
Louis Gossett Jr. (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” 1982), Jamie Foxx (“Ray,” 2004), Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby,” 2004), Cuba Gooding Jr. (“Jerry Maguire,” 1996), and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King Of Scotland,” 2006) have also won Oscars.
Ali’s “Green Book” role proved controversial. Shirley’s family objected to how he was portrayed in the film, particularly the notion that Shirley was estranged from his relatives.
Shirley’s only living brother, Maurice Shirley, once called the movie a “symphony of lies.” Shirley’s nephew said in an interview that Ali called to personally apologize.
But even so, the film did well at the Golden Globes and Ali received acclaim for his performance. (On Sunday night, “Green Book” also won for best original screenplay.)
In his acceptance speech, Ali thanked Shirley, saying that trying to capture his essence “pushed me to my ends.”
He also thanked Mortensen and paid tribute to his grandmother.
“I want to dedicate this to my grandmother, who has been in my ear my entire life,” Ali said. “Telling me that if at first I don’t succeed, try, try again. That I can do anything I put my mind to.
Always, always pushing me to think positively and I know that I would not be here without her, that she’s has got me over the hump every step of the way.”