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Ariana DeBose Wins Best Supporting Actress for Performance as Anita in Spielberg’s West Side Story

By David T Valentin

While the 2022 Oscars will certainly be a memorable experience for all, let’s turn our attention away from the Will Smith and Chris Rock display of toxic masculinity to the more positive moments of Sunday night.

While the remake of West Side Story had mixed reviews, there was one star (out of many really great ones, to be honest) who stood out to the Academy and that was Ariana DeBose. DeBose, who played the iconic Anita in 2021’s West Side Story, went home with the award for best supporting actress. Watching DeBose’s performance in the movie, it becomes obvious why.

The passion and dedication to portray the complexity of Anita’s emotions as she tries to live as a Puerto Rican woman in America in the 1950’s while dealing with intense racism, racism that eventually cost her boyfriend Bernardo’s life.

While Tony and Maria are the stars of the musical, Anita’s complicated feelings of America and Americans always grabs the attention of the audience. Couple that with a beautiful script and an amazing actor and it’s almost guaranteed an award for best supporting actress.

In 1961, Rita Moreno who played Anita also won supporting actress in the 1962’s Oscars award.

Back in 1961, Rita Moreno was dealing with a lot mentally. Moreno notes she was in therapy at the time for being too sensitive to the way people were talking to her, the way people were looking to her, because of her race and ethnicity.

“I was hiding feelings all the time. I was–ultra-sensitive to slights, social slights. And if somebody didn’t say help to me, it had everything to do with the way I looked or the way I am or who I was. That’s the girl who went in to play Anita.”

“I never was afraid to depict her because it was me,” Moreno said.

Ariana DeBose had a similar experience when auditioning for the role of Anita. Before auditioning, DeBose was expected to audition with very little preparation time at an early hour in the morning. After saying no, Steven Spielberg invited DeBose back to audition but not without condition.

DeBose said to Spielberg, “If you’re going to really consider me for this part, I think you have to be open to discussing that I’m Afro-Lat and putting it in the text.”

Not only did Ariana DeBose win an Oscar for best supporting actress as an Afro-Latina, but she won it as a queer woman of color and Afro-Latina.

“Lastly, imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus,” DeBose said in her speech at the award ceremony. “Look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color and Afro-Latina who found her strength in life through art, and that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate. So to anyone 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.”


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