Afro-Latina Ariana DeBose‘s role as Anita in West Side Story marked her first major film starring role and now she’s also celebrating another first after her best supporting Oscar win. During the 94th Academy Awards ceremony DeBose, who is of Puerto Rican descent on her father’s side, became the first Afro-Latina and first queer woman of color to win an Oscar. She and Rita Moreno also made history as the first women to win an Oscar for the same character. Moreno won the Oscar in 1962 and made history as the first Latina to win an Oscar.
“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,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech.
DeBose previously told HipLatina about the intentionality she brought to the character’s portrayal, specifically sharing why the term “prieta” was used. “There is historical context for othering each other. Being a Black Latino not being considered truly Latino for many years after Latinos have been looked down upon. And I was like, I think this is an opportunity to include this in a scene, and it be warranted,” DeBose shared. “It’s not an afterthought. It’s something that should be really considered. And also as a Black Latina, it’s like, you should not wield this character in this body as a stunt, right? If you’re not going to actually talk about it, then we should have gone a different direction with this character. And I think we take it on — it’s direct.”
DeBose’s win comes after taking home a slew of acting awards including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and a SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) — she became the first Latina and first queer women of color to win a film SAG award. The 31-year-old singer, dancer, and actress got her start competing on the sixth season of So You Think You Can Dance. She is now the second reality TV contestant to win an Oscar in her category following American Idol’s Jennifer Hudson who won in the same category in 2007 for Dreamgirls.
DeBose closed out her speech referencing a lyric from West Side Story to reinforce a message of inclusivity. “So to anybody who has ever questioned their identity ever or find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she said, referencing the Stephen Sondheim lyric from “Somewhere”.
Encanto was also recognized with the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and Sebastián Yatra performed the Oscar-nominated song, “Dos Oruguitas” while cast members performed “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” alongside special guests Luis Fonsi, Becky G, Megan Thee Stallion, and percussionist Sheila E.