Ariana DeBose is breaking ground simply by being herself.
With her star-making role as Anita in 2021’s Steven Spielberg-produced production of West Side Story, DeBose has become an awards-season darling, snagging nominations for honors ranging from to the BAFTAs to the Academy Awards.
But on Sunday, it was her big win at the Screen Actors Guild awards that shifted the needle for herself and scores of young actresses coming behind her. DeBose won the Actor trophy for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and thus became both the first-ever first openly queer woman and the first-ever Latinx actor to win an individual film prize.
“It has taken a long time for me to feel comfortable calling myself an actor,” DeBose said, excitedly accepting her award. “My roots come from the dance world and the Broadway stage. And the Anita that we see on the screen took every bit of me, but she took ten years to make, and I am extremely proud of her and of our film.”
Noting the monumental nature of the moment, she thanked the Screen Actors Guild for granting her the honor.
“I really do believe that when you recognize one of us, you recognize all of us in a way, so thank you SAG-AFTRA for this recognition.”
While speaking with ESSENCE backstage immediately after her groundbreaking win, DeBose opened up about what she believes wins and recognitions like the ones she’s receiving in this season will mean for Afro-Latina representation in film going forward.
“Well, I think it’s just indicative that the doors are opening,” she said. “It’s an honor to be seen. It’s an honor to be an Afro-Latina, an openly queer woman of color, a dancer, a singer, and an actor.”
“It’s indicative to me that I will not be the last, and that’s the important part,” she added. “Whatever firsts are attached to my name, they are immensely special to me, but I’m focused on the fact that if I’m the first of anything, that means I will not be the last.”