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Ariana DeBose makes history as first Afro Latina, openly queer actor of color to win Oscar


Actor Ariana DeBose has made history as the first Afro Latina and first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award for acting.

DeBose won in the best supporting actress category for her performance reviving the iconic role of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s version of “West Side Story.”

Sixty years ago, Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win an Oscar, given for the role of Anita in West Side Story.

Today, Ariana DeBose won best supporting actress for the same role, becoming part of an elite club of Oscar-winners who’ve received the accolade for playing the same character. They’re the first pair of women ever to accomplish this.

DeBose, who is black and a latina is now the first openly queer woman of color to win for her acting, and the only to be nominated.

“Even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true,” she said in her acceptance speech. “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity….I promise you this, there is indeed a place for us.”

DeBose originally rejected the invitation to audition for West Side Story because she was working on Broadway. When she finally agreed, she got the script only a day before the audition, she told Variety.


“I will sing and dance,” she said, but couldn’t read her lines. But both Spielberg and the film’s casting director, Cindy Tolan, loved her performance so much, they asked her to come back again.

Set in the 1950s, “West Side Story” centers on the rivalry between two teenage street gangs — the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang — as their communities faced displacement during New York City’s urban renewal period. Their rivalry intensifies when Tony, a Jet, falls in love with Maria, the young sister of Sharks leader Bernardo.

DeBose, a triple-threat performer of Puerto Rican descent, shows off her versatile skills in “America” — leading an epic ensemble around the streets of New York’s San Juan Hill in the iconic musical number.

With her Oscar win, DeBose and legendary actor Rita Moreno, who originated the role in the 1961 film version of the acclaimed Broadway musical, are now part of a small group of pairs of actors who’ve won an Academy Award for playing the same character.

DeBose and Moreno, who also returned for Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake as an executive producer and as the character Valentina, are the first women and performers of color to join the rare club.

“She means a lot to me,” DeBose said of Moreno in a previous NBC News joint interview. “She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community. She means a lot to the Latino community and to the entertainment industry at large.”


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