And we’re off: Not just the first (broadcast) Oscar of the night, but also the first major milestone, as Best Supporting Actress winner Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer woman to win an acting Oscar.
DeBose won, of course, for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, where she took on the role of Anita. (DeBose was quick to namecheck both fellow Anita Rita Moreno in her acceptance speech, as well as Spielberg, who she reminded was now “stuck with her.)
DeBose won out in a packed Best Supporting Actress crowd, coming out ahead of performances from Kirsten Dunst, Judi Dench, Jessie Buckley, and Aunjanue Ellis. DeBose was both humble and thoughtful in her acceptance speech, thanking her family before taking a moment to speak to queer women of color around the world, reminding them that their dreams can become a reality, and emphasizing the importance of the representation inherent to this kind of victory.
“To anyone who questions your identity,” she said, “Ever ever ever, or you find yourself living in gray spaces, I promise you this: There is a place for us.”
DeBose is a relative newcomer to the world of film; she’s much better known as a stage actress, to the point that Spielberg had to lure her away from Broadway to take on the part of Anita.
Tonight’s ceremony is actually only the first time in 20 years that an openly queer performer has even been nominated for an acting award (Kristen Stewart, who’s up for Best Actress for Spencer, is in a similar boat to DeBose). The most “recent” was Ian McKellan’s nomination for his performance in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King. And while we’re cataloguing baffling information, let’s also consider that DeBose is now only the second Latina to have won an acting Oscar, after... Rita Moreno for West Side Story. (She’s also only the second actor born in the 1990s to win, after Jennifer Lawrence, but that’s more just weird, and not “deeply infuriating.”)