The actor, who played drug dealer-turned-father-figure Juan in Moonlight, won for Best Supporting Actor at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles Sunday.
While accepting the award, Ali gave a powerful speech that emphasized the importance of accepting others and their differences.
“I think what I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happened when you persecute people — they fold into themselves,” he said. “And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentlemen who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community, and taking the opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered, that he was okay, and accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that.”
“When we kind of get caught up in the minutiae, the details that make us 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 an opportunity to go to war about it, and to say that that person is different from me, and I don’t like you, so let’s battle,” he added. “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 and the love has grown. And that stuff is minutiae. It’s not that important.”
Ali has been a familiar face along the awards show circuit this season, nabbing an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe nomination, and a Critics’ Choice win for his role in the moving Barry Jenkins drama. Though he’s been nominated for five other SAG Awards as a member of ensemble casts, this is his first solo nomination and win.
“Simply put, it was the best thing I’ve ever read,” Ali recalled to EW in October of reading Moonlight‘s script for the first time. “These are all people we grew up with but never had their space on camera…I remember just being so moved by how specifically these characters were all drawn, how unique the story was, and feeling like I knew these people.”
Click here for the complete list of winners.