DeBose took home the best supporting actress award for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s retelling of “West Side Story,” 60 years after Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the same role.
This win is historic in another respect: Moreno and DeBose are the first pair of women to win Oscars for playing the same character.
During her acceptance speech, DeBose took a moment to thank Moreno directly, telling the actor, “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.”
DeBose wove in themes from “West Side Story” throughout her speech. “Now you 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,” she said.
As DeBose delivered her message to audiences, Moreno listened intently. At one point during the telecast, the 90-year-old actor could be seen near tears.
After thanking the people who got her to this moment — including her mother, Moreno, and director Spielberg — DeBose spoke to her identity, and the role art has played in bolstering her.
“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," she said.
DeBose concluded the speech by echoing the famous "West Side Story" song, "Somewhere." In the 2021 movie remake, Moreno's character, Valentina (a reimagining of Doc from the original), uses the song to imagine a world in which different groups of people can coexist peacefully.
"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," DeBose said.