Mahershala Ali was born on February 16, 1974 in Oakland, California but raised in the neighboring Hayward.

Mahershala Ali Biography

While playing basketball at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., Ali earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications, and discovered an interest in acting. While still an undergrad he took a number of acting classes and was featured in St. Mary’s production of Spunk.

Between his undergrad and graduate studies, Ali made his professional debut with the lauded California Shakespeare Festival, staying with them for a season before being accept to NYU where he studied acting.


While at NYU, Ali appeared in productions of The Merchant of Venice, The New Place, Blues for an Alabama Sky, A Lie of the Mind, The School for Scandal, A Doll’s House, Monkey in the Middle and Secret Injury, Secret Revenge.

After graduation, Ali quickly found work in film and television. His first role was as Dr. Trey Sanders on Crossing Jordan and Rashard Coleman on NYPD Blue. In 2004, Ali received widespread acclaim for his role on Ira Steven Behr’s The 4400 where he played Richard Tyler, a Korean War pilot. Though the series lasted only three seasons, it was enough to help Ali move to the next level.

Ali has appeared in two works for David FincherThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button and House of Cards, both critically lauded works—and has had roles in the HBO series Treme, and the film The Place Beyond the Pines. Most recently, he filmed the third season of House of Cards, which premiered in 2015

Ali’s break-out role was Boggs, the personal bodyguard of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in the final two chapters of the Hunger Games franchise. He is incredibly loyal to Katniss, offering guidance and advice, and eventually dies protecting her.

In 2014, Ali landed the lead role in HBO’s True Crime, co-starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey and Alexandra Daddario. The show follows the lives of police detectives as they navigate their personal and professional lives. True Crime is still running, with the fourth season expected to air in late 2023 or early 2024.

Mahershala Ali Awards and Personal Life

In 2017, Ali won his first Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in Moonlight. In 2019, he won the same award for his performance in Green Book.

Ali was also part of the group that won a Primetime Emmy in 2020 for Outstanding Children’s Program, which he received for his work on We Are The Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratical Fest.

In 2013, Ali married Amatus Sami-Karim. The couple welcomed their first child in 2017, a daughter named Bari Najma.

Mahershala Ali Interview

We’ve had the opportunity to speak with Mahershala Ali on a number of occasions where he talked about working with Brad Pitt and David Fincher, as well as his time working on The Hunger Games. During one of these interviews he gave us the origin of his name. At birth, his parents named him Mahershalalhashbaz. “It’s Hebrew, actually. It’s the longest name in the Bible. Growing up they called me Herschel…by high school and college they called me Mahershala, so yeah, and for a while I tried to go by Mahershalahashbaz professionally, but people have got to be able to say your name!”

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