The actor won for best actress in a supporting role for her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story.'
Ariana DeBose made history after becoming the first Afro Latina and first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award for acting. DeBose won an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role for her performance in “West Side Story.” She starred as Anita in Steven Spielberg's take on the iconic Broadway musical of the same name. "Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that's what I believe we're here to celebrate," said DeBose in her acceptance speech, reported NBC News. "So to anybody who's ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us," she added.
"Even in this weird world we live in, dreams do come true," she said, before thanking her mother, who was in the audience.
Actor Rita Moreno won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita over 60 years ago in the 1961 film version of the acclaimed Broadway musical. Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno now form a unique group of actors who have won an Academy Award for playing the same character. Moreno became the first Latina to win the honor at the time. Moreno was also an executive producer on Speilberg's remake and also played Valentina in the film. When asked about their dynamic, DeBose said, “She means a lot to me,” DeBose said of Moreno. “She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community. She means a lot to the Latino community and to the entertainment industry at large.”
The West Side story captures the rivalry between two teenage street gangs — the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. Set in the 50s, it captures the displacement of community members during New York City’s urban renewal period. The rivalry between the gangs escalates after Tony, a Jet, falls in love with Maria, the young sister of Sharks leader Bernardo. Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend, and Maria’s friend is Puerto Rican like the rest of the Sharks. Ariana DeBose stood out as Anita in the movie.
One of the high points of her performance comes during an emotional song — “A Boy Like That” — with Maria, played by Rachel Zegler. DeBose said it was a dynamic that really stood out for her. “Ultimately what you see on the screen is such a beautiful exploration of a deep female relationship,” said DeBose. “It is ugly. It is loud. It is highly emotional. Quite frankly, it’s volatile, and then just downright heartbreaking because there is so much love there.”
Last month, DeBose won the Screen Actors Guild’s best-supporting actress award, becoming the first Latina to win a film award from the guild and also the first queer woman of color to win an honor in the acting category. She also won her first Golden Globe and BAFTA as well for her portrayal of Anita.
GLAAD's President & CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis sang praises of Ariana DeBose for setting an example for the LGBTQ community. "Ariana DeBose is an immensely talented actress and a tremendous advocate for LGBTQ people and people of color," said Sarah Kate Ellis. "She not only made history tonight as the first queer woman of color to win an Oscar, but she sent a beautiful and timely message to LGBTQ young people. I hope LGBTQ youth around the world saw her win, heard her speak and recognize that they too should dream big."