Ariana Debose is showing the world just what a young Black Queer woman is capable of with her historic Oscar nomination and win. The second woman to win an Oscar for the same role, Debose took home the award for best supporting actress for her role as Anita in Stephen Spielberg’s “West Side Story” Sunday, March 27, 2022.
As a proud Afro Latino and openly queer woman, Debose’s Oscar win meant more than just a trophy to an artist, but rather served as a prolific moment for Black queer women to see themselves. “Imagine this little girl, in the back of a white Ford Focus; look into her eyes. You see a queer – openly queer woman of color, a Afro Latina who found her strength and light through art,” said Debose. Inspiring millions with her speech, she continued on with a message of encouragement and hope. “So 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” stated Debose.
While many actresses take different paths to stardom, Debose’s career hasn’t always been easy. Weeding through rejection after rejection, Debose in a backstage Oscar interview shared with reporters that she took those “rejections as redirections.” “A Lot of hard work, a lot of determination, a lot of active choice to take my rejections as redirections…when I was in the ensemble of Hamilton, mind you – as an ensemble member, I had a role that barely spoke – all I did was dance. But I chose at some point to try for more and to be frank, it wasn’t met with thunderous applause. Some folks looked at me like I was kinda crazy and I had to choose to believe that I was deserving of more,” shared Debose
A dream and a vision, met with hard work and a passion. Debose’s story shows what happens when one is willing to work for what one wants, and the power of choosing oneself. “Honestly, just choosing myself and choosing to believe that I was worthy. And the willingness to humble myself and do the work, that’s how this happened. This is magic but it’s magic that did not come without effort,” said Debose
Debose’s win not only has allowed her to be the first openly queer, Afro Latina woman to win this award, but to stand alongside Rita Moreno in creating more representation in the industry. Debose shared with a Variety reporter “the industry has changed so much and quite frankly, her existence has opened many doors, not just for me but for many women in this industry; many Latinas” shared Debose. Continuing on Debose, when dwelling on the idea of being the first, stated “It makes me really happy to stand beside her, because she’s not alone anymore. People don’t talk about that, when you’re the first of something it’s lonely. At least that’s what I’ve learned sometimes, so it’s really… a privilege and an honor to be the person that gets to stand beside her and we are ready and waiting for more folks.”
In an industry which oftentimes overlooks the talent and stories of marginalized communities Debose’s win offers those after her hope that they too can take their place in Hollywood. Images and seeing our stories reflected back at us are the ways in which we dream up new realities. The ways in which we learn that we are the authors of our stories. Debose’s intersectional identity as a woman, Afro Latina and openly queer, empowers those of her community, empowers women, Latin and LGBTQ+ folk to write broader stories and dream bigger dreams. Not only does it send the message that there is space but also creates room for diversity in the people allowed a seat at the table.
Debose stepping away from the traditional identity we see portrayed in media and film creates room for others who have oftentimes felt left out. Those of disabled voices, communities of color voices, those who live outside the boxes of CIS heteronormativity know that it is possible to be authentically themselves and succeed within Hollywood. Knowing that what every community they come from their stories are worthy to be told and they are worthy to be seen. It is Debose’s story that inspires with her win, leaves a legacy for those coming after her, and stands alongside other change makers in the community. Debose’s story stands alongside folks like M.J Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Janelle Monae and so many other powerful queer and gender expansive women and folks within the industry.
Securing roles, playing parts that matter and making an impact can be hard when many of the faces that are shown are that of white cisgendered men. But with folks like Debose and the powerful women and femmes alongside her, their roles and the stories they tell are creating more representation at a time when women’s experiences and stories are not being told. It is these stories that serve as breadcrumbs to those searching to find their place and to see what is truly possible.
How many young actresses will watch Debose’s performance and pursue acting careers? How many Afro Latina women will see their stories reflected in roles like Anita? Diversity in Hollywood and expanding narratives within media and film offer not only a more accurate reflection of the world around but create hope and inspiration in the hearts of many. Women like Debose and folks from marginalized communities finding their own seats at the table creates room and space for those behind them and that’s the job of good media. Great films and media not only inspire but reflect the world around them. They not only tell great stories but tell diverse stories. Great film not only engages but also breaks barriers and leaves the doors open behind it. Debose’s career has inspired many and her Oscar win has left open doors, now it’s time for those who are still dreaming and aspiring to walk through them.