Actor Mahershala Ali has become one of the most enigmatic actors of current times, having a range that spans both critically acclaimed dramas like Moonlight to his new role as Blade in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s also known for his adherence to his faith, hence why he’s revealed he’s had to turn down intimate scenes in his movies.
A principled actor with gravitas is something not seen as often as one would like, especially in the Black community. As Black actors and creators continue to fight for acceptance in the mainstream, they also strive to provide positive images to those coming up behind them. Actors like Mahershala and Denzel Washington are two of the actors who have taken firm stances in Hollywood around intimacy.
A recently surfaced story about acting icon Denzel Washington in which he wouldn’t kiss his famous co-star Julia Roberts exemplifies how some people have their own set of standards they do not budge from – regardless of who their co-star is or otherwise. The two worked together on the 1993 film The Pelican Brief, and there was blowback at the time about Denzel’s decision.
A resurfaced NY Daily News report that covered Alison Samuels’ book “Off the Record” detailed that Washington wouldn’t kiss Roberts on set “out of loyalty to his female African-American fans”. Asked why, Washington replied, “Black women are not often seen as objects of desire on film. And they have always been my core audience.”
Julia Roberts was later asked if she was up to kiss Denzel Washington years later by Newsweek, and she had an answer most women would probably understand. “Don’t I have a pulse? Of course, I wanted to kiss Denzel. It was his idea to take the damn scenes out.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Mahershala Ali told host Common on his podcast Mind Power Mixtape that he refused to do sex scenes in the first major role of his career and was able to get what he wanted, despite his amateur status in the business.
Ali’s first major film role was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which he played the character Tizzy Weathers. Directed by David Fincher (House of Cards) and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Ali also co-starred alongside Taraji P. Henson – whom he refused to have a sex scene with, according to him, because his religion doesn’t allow for “simulated sex.”
Since Ali is an Ahmadi Muslim, he told director Fincher that he’d accept the role with the one condition that there’s no stimulated sex – to which Fincher agreed to his condition and worked with Ali to find a way to shoot the scene while honoring his principles.
“Taraji and I begin to kiss, and we fall out of the frame … It wasn’t clear if [Fincher] was trying to have like some bumping and grinding … which I doubt he was,” Ali said. “But for me even … at that time, 15 years ago, I was still like, ‘OK, I can only go up to this point,’ just because of — just trying to hold a space of respect for my religion.”