In a major melding of past and present, the Academy has awarded an Oscar to the actress who played Anita in West Side Story, 60 years apart. Ariana DeBose took out the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical, after Rita Moreno took home the exact same award, for the same role in the 1962 imagining of the same film.
This is a landmark win as it marks the first time an openly queer, woman of colour has taken home an Oscar. During her emotional acceptance speech, DeBose noted the significance of the moment and what it means for representation onscreen.
“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of colour and Latina who found her life and strength in art,” she said. “That’s what I believe we are here to celebrate. So to anybody who has ever questioned your identity, ever, ever, ever, — or you find yourself living in the grey spaces — I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.”
DeBose continued, “Now you see why Anita says ‘I want to be in America,'” DeBose said. “Because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true,” which was met with loud cheer and applause from the excited crowd.
In the same speech, DeBose paid tribute to predecessor Moreno, who also happened to be in the audience, and thanked her for breaking ground for Latinos in Hollywood.
“You’re staring at me right now and I’m so grateful. Your Anita paved the way for tons of Anitas like me. And I love you so much,” DeBose said.
Moreno, who historically became the first Latina to ever win an Oscar, spent a significant amount of time getting to know DeBose while filming West Side Story. Not only did Moreno serve as an executive producer on the project, had a small role in Spielberg’s film as a shopkeeper named Valentina. Moreno says she consciously didn’t talk to DeBose about the legacy of playing Anita.
“I knew what a delicate position Ariana was in,” Moreno had previously told the New York Times. “I wanted her to be absolutely sure that I didn’t impose anything on her. So as a good hostess, I decided to keep some of those thoughts to myself. She knew the enormity of it.”
In order to win DeBose had to beat out an incredible line-up of big names, including Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), Judi Dench (Belfast), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog) and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard).
Despite the undeniably fierce level of competition, DeBose was an unwavering favourite to win. Most recently, the lauded actress has taken home supporting actress awards at this year’s BAFTA Awards, Critics Choice Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards.