Do you ever wonder how Best Supporting Actress came to be the first award presented? I remember when I figured out that it was always a crowd-pleaser, because everyone in that category is largely there for having had a blast in a role that wasn’t about how pretty they were. I mean, there are myriad exceptions, but the category is always sure to involve a couple of the young ‘fun’ ingenues, often a veteran performer and a dark horse – they’re all there for some of the best, most recognizable, and most fun roles in the movies.
Like Anita. Anyone who has seen West Side Story will tell you Anita’s songs (and scenes) are the ones that crackle and buzz, the true female force in the show, even if arguably more things happen to insipid Maria (though Rachel Zegler made her more charming than Maria should be allowed to be).
But the win for Ariana DeBose isn’t entirely about her performance as Anita. That is, it is – but it’s also unquestionably about her charisma as a performer, as a star, her swag and confidence demanded she’d be the winner, essentially. And her acceptance speech told us exactly why. Obligatory appreciation for her outfit: pants! Pants and that sculpted top and an incredible robe wrap:
Ariana DeBose is a more than a moment, sheâ€™s the whole movement. pic.twitter.com/d12eUYEBlA— Autostraddle (@autostraddle) March 28, 2022
But the highlight tonight wasn’t her winsome, a-star-is-born personality, even though it’s bursting out everywhere. It’s how calmly she stood up there and delivered these lines:
“Lastly, imagine this little girl in the backseat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes. You see a queer—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 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."
“There’s a place for us” is of course the lovelorn refrain in WSS – I don’t have to tell you what its inclusion meant here. But on a night when other celebs tried to raise awareness but seemed to stop short of organising their words in a coherent fashion, this one hit and early enough for every kid watching to still be awake.
How many years would we have to go back, to where her self-identification would raise eyebrows? Not that long ago – and when we realize that her ‘historic’ win as the only openly queer woman of colour ever to win also makes her only the second Latina woman to have won an Academy Award, alongside Rita Moreno, and that they were both for the same role – that’s what makes me appreciate people like DeBose. Because the work is never going to be over. We’re just going to make the world a little better, and then slide backward, over and over again ad infinitum. De Bose is one of the ways we know we’re all a tiny, tiny bit going in the right direction.