His Rap Name Is Prince Ali: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali

February 27, 2017  |  
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We all know that Mahershala Ali is fine. We know that he is an amazing actor who has given some great performances in House of CardsLuke CageMoonlight and Hidden Figures. We know that the 43-year-old actor just became a first-time father last week. We also know that his work in Moonlight helped him garner his first Academy Award last night. But there are things behind the scenes that you may not know about Ali. Here are a few golden nuggets we’re sure you will appreciate if you’re big fans like we are.

He’s the First Muslim to Win an Oscar

At a time when people of Muslim faith are under attack, Mahershala Ali’s Oscar win is major. He is the first Muslim actor ever, like ever, to win an Academy Award. “I’m proud to own [being Muslim] and I embrace that,” Ali told the Los Angeles Times after Sunday night’s win. “I just feel blessed to have had the opportunities that I have had.”

Mahershala Was a Rapper Known As Prince Ali

Mahershala Ali was a rapper by the name of Prince Ali, releasing a mixtape in 2006 and an album in 2007 called Curb Side Service. He was even behind his own music label called Eye5 Recordings. He collaborated with some big names, too, including Talib Kweli and Keith Murray:

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#FBF 1990. #ShortShortsEra #highschool @reggiesteele

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He Was a Basketball Star

He did his thing on the court after getting a basketball scholarship from St. Mary’s College in California. As he told GQ, his growing interest in acting took his attention away from basketball.

“It was about getting a basketball scholarship to a Division I school,” he said. “Once I got that, I didn’t set a realistic next goal on how to get to the NBA, which is perhaps for the best. I fell into acting. A teacher gave me an opportunity to be in a play and it came a little easy to me. “

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#tbt my dude Nas.

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He’s a Cat Lover

Ali is not only allergic to dogs, but based on his Muslim faith, he said dogs can’t come through his home. He has two cats, one named Noor and another adorable one named Nas — after the rapper.

His Father Was an Actor and Dancer

Named Phillip Gilmore, Ali’s father was an actor and dancer who appeared on Broadway and in Malcolm X.

“My father, Phillip Gilmore, was very talented,” he told The Hollywood Reporter about his dad, who left California to pursue his dreams in New York. “He was getting seriously into dancing. He was on Soul Train and won $2,500. But the Bay Area was too small for him. I don’t think he had the space to do what he needed to do. He went off to New York and got into the Dance Theatre of Harlem and immediately started working and traveling with the companies of the larger shows.”

He Is a Writer at Heart

Not only did Ali study and graduate from college with a degree in mass communications, but he told GQ that if he wasn’t acting, he would be writing.

“I would hope I would have fallen into writing,” he said. “I was going to try to get into the creative writing program at Berkeley; it’s just that the acting thing worked out. I’ve written a couple of scripts but nothing amazing yet.”

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Born this way #Isaiah8:3

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He Decided to Shorten His Name on His Own

While he tried to make his birth name work in Hollywood, Mahershalalhashbaz was a mouthful. The name, a Biblical one his mother dreamed up while pregnant, was something he decided to shorten in the hopes of not limiting his opportunities.

“I was doing The Place Beyond The Pines and I was totally content going by Mahershalahashbaz Ali; it never bothered me and nobody ever told me to change it,” he told WENN. “I had this dream where I shortened my name and I woke up: ‘I’m not changing my name.’ Then, I got a call they wanted to make my name ‘M. Ali’ for this poster, saying, ‘Or you’re not gonna be on it’. It got me to thinking that my friends and family don’t call me Mahershalahashbaz and I didn’t want to limit my experience as an actor because of a few syllables.”

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Back? Hmm… @houseofcards season4 #binge

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He Sees House of Cards as His Big Break

Hard work is the major reason for his success right now, but Ali admitted to EW that had he not done House of Cards, a show he was initially unsure about (because Netflix was new and series on them weren’t popping yet), he doesn’t know where he would be.
“I owe a lot to my time on ‘House of Cards’ because, up until I booked that show, I had been working consistently for 12 years, but I wasn’t working on anything that mattered in the way ‘House of Cards’ did to its audience, to casting directors, to directors and producers. The show hit this sweet spot.”

His First Feature Film Was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 

He initially worked with Taraji P. Henson, his Hidden Figures co-star, and Brad Pitt, Moonlight producer (of Plan B Entertainment), when he worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008. It was the first best picture nominated film he worked on. Moonlight is his first best picture winner.

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Bari (Bar-ee) Najma Ali 💜2/22/17 #pisces

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His Daughter Was Born in Her Amniotic Sac

Right before he took home the Oscar, Ali took home his first child. Wife Amatus Sami-Karim gave birth to their daughter, Bari Najma Ali, last Wednesday. She had a very unique birth.

“The water didn’t break until the baby was literally almost out,” he told Access Hollywood. “So when she was born, she came out in a clear, like, bag. And I’m going, ‘Wow, they come brand new!’ And … she was in the sack, and it was incredible!”


Images via WENN and Instagram

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