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Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe on the Oscars rarity of appearing together in two best-picture contenders

Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe on the Oscars rarity of appearing together in two best-picture contenders

The most potent acting pair to grace the films nominated for this year’s best picture Oscar  aren’t Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, singing and dancing their way across “La La Land,” or even Denzel Washington and Viola Davis powering through August Wilson’s stage-to-screen prose in “Fences.”

That honor goes to Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe, two breakthrough stars who helped drive not one but two best-picture contenders in the same year: Barry Jenkins’ gay coming-of-age drama “Moonlight” and Theodore Melfi’s inspirational tale “Hidden Figures,” about three black women fighting for equality at NASA in the 1960s.

Ali’s exceptionally...

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