The actress thanked the legendary Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 version of the film, for “paving the way for tons of Anitas.”
“Even in this weird world we live in, dreams do come true, and that’s really heartening right now.”
Those were the words an emotional Ariana DeBose said as she accepted the Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” the first openly queer woman of color to win in the category.
DeBose, who played Anita, the role that legendary Boricua actress Rita Moreno played in the 1961 film, and for which she also won the Oscar in 1962, took the opportunity to send a powerful message to the LGBTQ community.
“You see a queer—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, who previously won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild Award for the role.
The actor’s heartfelt sentiment especially hit home in Florida, where the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis bans discussion of LGBTQ issues with primary school students.
“[Ariana] 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,” GLAAD’s President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement Sunday.
A Place for All
Born in North Carolina to a Puerto Rican father and a white mother, DeBose also has African American and Italian ancestry.
She made her television debut competing on “So You Think You Can Dance” and made her Broadway debut in the musical “Bring It On: The Musical” in 2011. She also appeared as The Bullet in the original cast of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” as well as in the filmed stage recording of the play, which was released in 2020.
The 31-year-old, who thanked Rita Moreno in her speech for paving the way “for tons of Anitas like me,” is in a relationship with costume designer and professor Sue Makkoo, whom she met while working on “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” in 2017.
Her words of encouragement to anyone who ever felt displaced, received a loud and warm round of applause from the audience.
“To anybody who has 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, referring to the film’s song “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us).”