by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Mahershalalhashbaz Ali is in the right place and time. With this week’s movie premiere of “The Wronged Man,” a role in “Benjamin Button” behind him and the blockbuster “Predator” just months away, he’s poised for stardom.
Yet days before the New Year, the Oakland native wants to talk about making the public aware of the usefulness of DNA in criminal investigations and in exonerating people wrongly accused. “The Wronged Man” is a true story about Calvin Willis, a Louisiana man who was jailed on charges of rape and assault. Janet “Prissy” Gregory is the paralegal (played by Julia Ormond) convinced of his innocence who worked for 22 years on his case. Finally, with the help of The Innocence Project, Prissy gained Calvin’s freedom.
His name, pronounced “mah-her-sha-lal-hash-bazz,” is from the Hebrew Bible and appeared to his mother in a dream. Called “Hershel” growing up, he was introduced to movies by his grandmother and to musicals by his late father. After graduating with a Communications degree, he joined a Shakespearean theatre group. “The acting thing really clicked,” he remembers. “I just fell in love with it.”