Ok. Brace yourself. Mahershala Ali is wearing some pretty nice shirts in the latest issue of GQ.
My first reaction upon seeing this cover was to pass out and recover. The second was to admire Ali’s awesome smile. My third remark was: “That’s a very Winston shirt.” Little did I know that so many more great shirts were waiting for me under the fold—eye-popping patterned shirts that might look foolish on others, but on Ali, they’re every bit stylish and charming. Like this. And this. And this. Great shirts. It’s impossible to ignore them.
The profile, written by Carvell Wallace, begins aptly: “There’s not actually a golden light shining down on Mahershala Ali from the ceiling of the Santa Monica café where I first meet him, but it feels like there is.” Part of that is Ali’s outfit. Part of that is the smile. Part of that is his kindness. Part of that is his overwhelming inner (and outer) glow. Wallace goes on to acknowledge Ali as “the best-dressed man in the room.” The writer also acknowledges the importance of Ali’s Screen Actors Guild Awards acceptance speech earlier this year:
The speech was a remarkable thing to watch, a near spiritual moment amid a humdrum parade of movie-industry self-congratulation. Here was a dark-skinned American Muslim in a gleaming white tuxedo jacket gently, word by word, opening up his heart to the audience.
When the subject of the profile pivots naturally to Ali’s fame as a black man, his responses are as measured and compassionate as we’ve come to expect. On his transition to stardom:
“When suddenly you go from being followed in Barneys to being fawned over, it will mess with your head,” he tells me, leaning over the table. He remembers being on subway trains and seeing people hide their rings from him: “those experiences that you have from age 10, when you start getting these little messages that you are something to be feared.” Even as a celebrity, he’s experienced how the script can always be flipped. “Walking down the street in Berkeley,” he says, “and some cops roll up on you and say straight up, ‘Give me your ID,’ and you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’”
On the black American’s relationship with America:
“I think African-Americans have a very convoluted relationship with patriotism,” he says. “The fact is, we essentially were the abused child. We still love the parent, but you can’t overlook the fact that we have a very convoluted relationship with the parent. I absolutely love this country, but like so many people have some real questions and concerns about how things have gone down over the years and where we’re at. And that’s from a place of love, because I want the country to be what it says it is on paper.”
Ali also speaks on his connection to “small” characters:
“I think I identify with characters who have to make themselves smaller,” he says. “Because that’s been my experience, as a large black man, to make people feel safer. Just because I always found”—he pauses again; he is exceedingly precise—“witnessing other people’s discomfort made me uncomfortable. And at the end of the day, it’s a lot of b.s., too. Sometimes you gotta be like, ‘Eff that.’”
If you’re still wondering about the shirts, GQ has an informative explanation:
If you’ve never worn plants on your pants—or your shirt, shorts, or jacket—allow us to introduce the botanical print. You may think you’ve seen it before on novelty goods at the Honolulu airport, but these have been thoroughly upgraded and fashion-ized. Basically, designers are taking palm fronds, wildflowers, and other natural foliage and blowing up the scale until it looks like an Andy Warhol silkscreen—then slimming down the silhouette. The idea is to look less like a tourist and more like someone who spends every day in paradise.
The man also makes them look good.