Many actors have shared stories about how difficult it can be to stand up regarding what kinds of scenes they’re comfortable doing or what sorts of environments they’re expected to work in, especially early on in their careers.
But Mahershala Ali recently shared an anecdote regarding a time when he drew the line and refused to take part in a sex scene because doing so would conflict with his religious beliefs as a Muslim, and people are applauding him for standing up for himself.
Ali was cast in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, alongside Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson, who played his girlfriend. One scene was written with a kiss, and required Ali and Henson to “fall out of the frame” as an insinuation they were doing a lot more than just kissing.
With scenes like that, it’s often up to the director — in this case, David Fincher — how much will end up being shown, and Ali was explicit up front that he was only okay with kissing.
“It wasn’t clear if [Fincher] was trying to have like some bumping and grinding…which I doubt he was,” the actor recently said on Common’s podcast, “Mind Power Mixtape.” “But for me even…at that time, 15 years ago, I was still like, ‘Okay, I can only go up to this point,’ just because of— just trying to hold a space of respect for my religion.”
Many actors in his position would have struggled with speaking up for themselves, but for Ali, the choice was simple. “If there’s a sex scene, I can’t do it,” he recalled telling his agent.
Obviously, Fincher was able to shoot the scene in a way that suited the film and didn’t go against Ali’s religious beliefs, and the actors career doesn’t seem to have been hindered in any way. Just three years later, he joined the cast of the critically acclaimed TV series Treme, and by 2017 he became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, for his performance in Moonlight.
People on Twitter applauded Ali for staying true to himself while still pursuing his dreams.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with actors deciding to do sex scenes should a story call for them, but the point is it should be up to what people are personally comfortable doing. And nobody should feel obligated to do things that go against their beliefs just for the sake of their career.
Fortunately, we’ve got people like Ali out here helping to pave the way for those standards, and speaking openly about his choices. You love to see it!