By Malik Omaid
A Black American, Ahmadi Muslim who acted in a movie showing lives of Black gay men #Moonlight has won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
This is the correct statement when you define what Mahershala Ali has achieved.
It is also correct he didn’t win the Oscar because of any of the above identities he has or the faith he belonged to or the sect he chose; he won the Oscar because he performed well. He separated his religion from his profession.
This is significant also because he is a Muslim.
President Trump imposed a ban on 7 Muslim countries and his supporters think that Muslims are terrorists. Even the Muslims in the United States have come under suspicion. When Mahershala Ali and Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi win Oscars, they give a message that not only ordinary Muslims are peace loving, they are also high achievers and have the ability to progress in various fields. This is why the character of Mahershala Ali in Moonlight becomes so important as he portrays a person who uplifts someone facing persecution.
In his acceptance speech at the SAG awards Ali said: “I think what I have learned from working on Moonlight, you see what happens when you persecute people, and they fold into themselves,”
In Pakistan, Ali would have failed to get a role, either because he is Ahmadi or because he is too BLACK to appear on the screen.
Firstly, his achievement would have faced the same suspicions that Dr. Abdus Salam faced because of his Ahmadi faith. Conspiracy theories about Dr. Abdus Salam winning the Nobel Prize for Physics are believed by the mainstream. In Urdu print media we have often read how the Jewish lobby helped him win the Nobel. The detractors ask us why has Dr. Abdul Qadeer never won the Nobel when he has done ‘so much’ for the science. In Mahershala’s case, local critics would have pointed out the great services of ‘Sahir Lodhi’ for arts and the injustice western ‘Jewish’ lobby had done by denying him to get an Oscar.
Secondly, his ‘black’ skin would have denied him any significant role. The only thing a person of his complexion in Pakistan will get will be that of a joker so that he can be made fun of. Recently, a friend of mine was rejected by a Pakistani news channel for the position of an on-screen TV journalist because she was ‘Sanwali’ or not fair enough for the screen. The prerequisite to appear on a TV screen in Pakistan is either to be white or too white. We have examples like Imanat Chan, but he is only given roles where his skin complexion is demeaned or he himself makes fun of it.
In fact, #Moonlight would not have been made in Pakistan as it depicts the lives of gay men and interestingly it does not demean them. In Pakistani movies, only reference of homosexuals we can find is Pathan truck drivers abusing young boys (Bol). This is racist and if we for a moment consider it a depiction of homosexuality, this role portrays them in a demeaning manner. Recently PEMRA issued a notice to Hum TV on an alleged portrayal of a love between two women in an episode of the drama ‘Kitni Girhain Baqi Hain’. This is how we deal with the issue of homosexuality.
Congratulations Ali for winning the Oscar. And to the director of Moonlight for making us understand the lives of black people which are otherwise invisible in the mainstream popular culture.