Mahershala Ali’s Dynamite SAG Awards Speech About Religious Persecution

Challenging Meryl Streep for best speech of the season, Mahershala Ali delivered passionate words about his Muslim faith at Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. Winning for his performance in “Moonlight,” Ali spoke of the need to avoid persecuting those who are different, a timely topic given Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering America.

“My mother is an ordained minister,” Ali said. “I’m a Muslim. 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. The love has grown.”

Here’s the full transcript:
I think what I’ve learned from working on “Moonlight” is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves. And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing 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 to tell him he mattered, that he was OK, and accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that.

We kind of get caught up in the minutia and the details that make us all different, I think there’s two ways of seeing that. There’s an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique, and then there’s the opportunity to go to war about it, and to say that that person is different than me and I don’t like you, so let’s battle.

My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. 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. The love has grown. And that stuff is minutia. It’s not that important.

I’m going to thank Tarell Alvin McCraney for his courage. I’m going to thank Barry Jenkins just for your insight, your brilliance and your direction, and just the collaboration, that opportunity, I’ll always hold that close to me. I want to thank my fellow cast mates. Any one of those young men could be up here holding this, I’m telling you. It’s beautiful work. Plan B, A24, thank you. Peace and blessings be upon you.

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Mahershala Ali’s powerful SAG Awards speech on persecution and acceptance

On Sunday night, Mahershala Ali won his first Screen Actors Guild award for his role in Moonlight, and delivered perhaps the best and most poignant acceptance speech of the evening. Ali, who is Muslim, wove his own experience, the current political climate of the United States, and his film into a message about American empathy, or the lack thereof.

“I think what I have learned from working on Moonlight, you see what happens when you persecute people, and they fold into themselves,” he said. “What I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan, was playing 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 he mattered, that he was okay. And accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that.”

Juan, Ali’s character in Moonlight, is a flawed mentor. He’s a drug dealer, but he takes in the main character Chiron and gives him a place to stay, a meal to eat, and an escape from Chiron’s abusive mother. Juan changes Chiron’s life, and shapes him into the man he becomes. Ali’s speech recalls the power of that character.

But it isn’t difficult to apply Ali’s words to the real-world events that unfolded in the two days before the SAG Awards, starting with President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration that bars entry to the US for refugees and specifically targets people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order resulted in American authorities detaining refugees, people with visas, and green card holders as protests erupted around the country, declaring the act cruel and un-American.

“When we kind of get caught up in the minutiae, the details that make us different, there's two ways of seeing that,” Ali continued. “There's an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique. And then there's the opportunity to go to war about it — to say that person is different from me and I don't like you, so let's battle.”

Ali narrowed this broader concept to talk about how persecution and focusing on people’s differences doesn’t just happen on a national political stage — but sometimes with the people in our own lives. Then he shared a personal anecdote about the struggle he and his mother had to overcome.

“My mother is an ordained minister,” Ali said. “I’m a Muslim. She didn't do backflips when I called her and told her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, we put things to the side and I was able to see her. She is able to see me. We love each other.”


Mahershala Ali Spoke About Persecution and His Muslim Faith in an Emotional SAG Award Speech

Though Mahershala Ali never mentioned President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban or the recent uptick in reported hate crimes, they seemed to weigh heavy on his mind as he accepted his Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance in a supporting role. "What I think I learned from working on Moonlight is you see what happens when you persecute people," Ali said. "They fold into themselves. What I was so thankful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community, taking that opportunity to uplift him, and tell him that he mattered and that he was okay and accept him. And I hope that we do a better job of that."

Ali went on to say that there were two ways of approaching people different from ourselves: the opportunity to see the "textures" of that person and what makes them unique, or to "go to war" over those differences. He then related the experience to his personal life as a converted Muslim. "My mother is an ordained minister," Ali said. "I'm a Muslim. She didn't do back flips when I called to tell her that I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, we put things to the side, and I'm able to see her and she's able to see me, we love each other, the love has grown. And that stuff is minutia — it's not that important." Watch the full speech above.

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