Mahershala Ali has made history as the first black actor to win two Best Supporting Actor Oscars.
The Green Book star — who plays jazz pianist Don Shirley in the Peter Farrelly-directed biographical drama about the musician’s tour through the American South with his driver-bodyguard Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) — won his second Academy Award at Sunday night’s ceremony, beating out fellow nominees Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), and last year’s category champion Sam Rockwell (Vice).
Ali took the stage, where he first thanked the man he portrayed, saying, “Trying to capture Dr. Shirley’s essence pushed me to my ends, which is a reflection of the person that he was and the life that he lived, and I thank him.” Ali went on to thank his costar Viggo Mortensen, along with Farrelly, before dedicating the award to his grandmother, who “has been in my ear my entire life telling me, if at first I don’t succeed, try try again.”
Only one other black actor, Denzel Washington, has earned two competitive Academy Awards: one for his supporting role in Glory (1989) and the other for leading Training Day (2001). Ali won his first Oscar for his supporting part in Barry Jenkins’ 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight, and upon 2019 Oscar nominations morning became the category’s first champion to follow up a victory with another Supporting Actor nomination.
Ali’s monumental victory comes after the 45-year-old swept the precursor season, winning corresponding category honors at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards — both of which represent groups that share large crossover membership with the Academy. The current star of HBO’s True Detective additionally won several journalist-backed awards across the season, including the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award.
“Through Dr. Donald Shirley, I had the gift of navigating circumstances as a profound, gifted, complicated genius. A man who had experiences and a combination of qualities that I had yet to see on film,” Ali previously said of his Oscar nomination for Green Book. “I’m tremendously grateful for the lessons I learned through both his struggles and successes. I sincerely hope Dr. Shirley’s music and his unique contribution to our culture continues to be discovered, shared and appreciated.”
Though Ali has expressed gratitude for the multiple honors his performance has won, Green Book has courted controversy for its portrayal of Shirley. Members of the deceased pianist’s family previously spoke out against the film’s characterization, which led Ali to apologize.
“I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally. He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” Edwin Shirley III — the pianist’s nephew — told Shadow and Act. “What he said was, ‘If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.’”
Head here to see the full list of 2019 Oscar winners, updating live as the broadcast goes on.