There certainly were a lot of surprises on Oscar night, but none quite as exciting as Ariana DeBose’s Academy Award win for her role in “West Side Story.”
DeBose, 31, made history the evening of March 27, when she became the first queer woman of color to win an Academy Award.
The North Carolina native, who is of African, Cuban and Caucasian heritage, won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic film “West Side Story.”
When she was announced as the winner, DeBose made her way to the stage in a custom gown/tux hybrid by Valentino that had already captured the actress an enormous amount of response from paparazzi and red carpet television hosts. When DeBose arrived at the podium, she had a lot to say.
“You know, what, what is this!? You know what, now I see why that Anita says ‘I want to be in America’ because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true. And that’s really a heartening thing right now.
“If I took the time to say thank you to every single beautiful person who has lifted me up on this stage, you fine people would be sitting here until next Oscars, so I’m not going to do that.
“But just allow me to say that it was the summer of a lifetime and I am the most privileged and grateful to have spent it with all of you. My God, thank you, Steven Spielberg. You’re stuck with me now! Yay!
“Thank you Kristie Macosko Krieger and Tony Kushner and the divine inspiration that is Rita Moreno. You are staring at me right now and I’m so grateful. Your Anita paved the way the way for tons of Anitas like me. And I love you so much.
“I’m gonna wrap this up and talk about my family, my mother, who is here tonight. Mama, I love you with my whole heart and this is as much yours as it is mine. Some of my tribesmen, my family, my love, Sue, Jonathan, Diana, Anthony. I couldn’t do what I do without each and every one of you.
“Lastly, imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus, look into her eyes: You see a queer, 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.
“Yeah, 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. Thank you to the Academy and thank you all.”
DeBose has had a stellar career, beginning with her 2009 television debut on the TV series “So You think You Can Dance,” where she made it to the top 20. She later appeared on the soap opera “One Life to Live” and played the part of Inez in the North Carolina Theater’s production of “Hairspray” before appearing in the role of Nautica in the 2011 Alliance Theater production of “Bring It On” in Atlanta.
From there it was on to Broadway and roles in “Motown: The Musical,” “Hamilton” and “Les Miserables.” She has also appeared in a handful of other films and recorded a pop dance single of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune classic “Shall We Dance.”
In addition to her Oscar, DeBose has won a bevy of other awards this season, among them a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild and the Critics Choice Award.
DeBose was reportedly married to stage prop master Jill Johnson, but, according to online sources, they have split and she is now dating costume designer Sue Makoo.