Ariana DeBose makes Oscars history as first queer woman of colour to win: ‘There is a place for us’

Ariana DeBose accepts the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in "West Side Story".

Ariana DeBose has made history by becoming the first openly queer woman of colour to win an Oscar for her towering performance in West Side Story.

DeBose beat out stiff competition from Jessie Buckley, Aunjanue Ellis, Kirsten Dunst and Judi Dench to take home the prize. Her win comes 60 years after Rita Moreno won in the same category for her portrayal of Anita in the original film adaptation of West Side Story in 1962.

“What is this?” an emotional Ariana DeBose said on stage at the Dolby Theatre. “You know what, now you see why 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 a really heartening thing right now.”

The actor went on to describe the period in which she filmed West Side Story as “the summer of a lifetime”. She also paid tribute to director Steven Spielberg, joking: “You’re stuck with me now.”

In a particularly poignant moment, DeBose paid tribute to Moreno, who was sitting in the audience at the ceremony.

“You are 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.”

West Side Story star Ariana DeBose paid tribute to those in ‘grey spaces’ at the Oscars

Closing out her speech, DeBose said: “Lastly, 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, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength in life through art, and that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.

“So to anybody who’s 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.”

Speaking in the press room after her win, DeBose said it was “a historical moment”, Variety reports.

“I’m an openly queer woman of colour – and not for nothing, that’s freaking awesome, you guys.” She went on to draw attention to the fact that she is just the second Latina actress to ever win an acting Oscar after Moreno.

“It’s a beautiful moment to be seen. And I’m really honoured by that.”

DeBose took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at a ceremony marked by surprises. The Power of the Dog, which led the pack with 12 nominations, ended up taking home just one award, with Jane Campion named Best Director.

Other big winners on the night included Jessica Chastain, who was named Best Actress for her turn in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while Will Smith won the award for Best Actor for his performance in King Richard (shortly after he hit Chris Rock on stage, in the night’s most talked-about moment).

CODA, an Apple TV+ film about deaf parents and their hearing daughter, took home the night’s top award for Best Picture.