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Oscars 2017: Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel bring diversity to supporting actor category

Mahershala Ali, who bcame a Muslim 17 years

Mahershala Ali, who bcame a Muslim 17 years ago, is nominated for best supporting actor for "Moonlight." Photo Credit: A24 / David Bornfriend

Might we see a historical first when the Oscar for best supporting actor is announced Sunday? Given the two front-runners in the category, it isn’t just possible, it’s likely. Here’s how the race is shaping up.

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Here’s the front-runner, who has earned rave reviews for his performance as a fatherly drug dealer. Other African-American actors have won in this category (Louis Gossett Jr., in 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman,” was the first), but Ali would be the first Muslim. He converted 17 years ago.

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”

He plays a Texas ranger tracking two bank robbers in this acclaimed crime drama. It’s a thoroughly Bridges-ian performance: easy, shambling and wryly funny.

Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”

This young actor is something of a surprise nominee for his performance as a fatherless teen whose uncle (Casey Affleck) steps in to help him through a rough patch. Given the rapturous praise for Affleck, Hedges deserves credit just for getting himself noticed.

Dev Patel, “Lion”

Wait, isn’t Patel the star of this film? He’s in the supporting actor category because that’s where the studio, Weinstein, wanted him. The gambit paid off, and now Patel could become the first person of Indian descent to win an acting Oscar. His recent BAFTA win seems to have increased his odds in this race.

Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

This film is also a crime drama, and Shannon also plays a Texas lawman — an odd coincidence. Shannon, however, is the opposite of Bridges here: intense, bitter and violent.

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