Ariana DeBose on Being First Latina SAG Film Actress Winner: ‘Doors Are Opening’

Ariana DeBose is now in the SAG Awards record books.

After winning SAG’s best supporting actress award for her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” DeBose is now the first Latina to win a film award from the guild, along with being the first queer woman of color to be recognized for acting.

“It’s indicative that doors are opening,” DeBose told reporters in the virtual backstage media room. “It’s an honor to an Afro Latina queer women of color and a dancer and a singer and an actor.”

DeBose said that she is cognizant of the importance of the firsts that she is notching for Afro Latino actors,” but equally significant to her is the sign that “it’s indicative that I will not be the last. That’s the important part. Whatever firsts are attached to my name, they’re important to me, but I’m focused on the fact that if I’m the first of anything it means I will not be the last.”

DeBose also pointed to her forerunners in playing “West Side Story’s” Anita on stage and screen, Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno. She called it an honor to join their ranks. The legacy of the role “includes both Chita and Rita and now Ariana and it’s really special to me. And we’re all very different types of Latinas. There’s not one way to be Latina or Hispanic. There are many beautiful ways and each and every one of us is testament to that.”

On the film side, much like other awards shows, there hasn’t been a plethora of Latino nominees at the SAG Awards. Salma Hayek in “Frida” (2002) and Catalina Sandino Moreno in “Maria Full of Grace” (2004) were the only Latinas represented in the lead actress film categories.

In supporting actress, the two noms for Cameron Diaz for “Being John Malkovich” (1999) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001), Adriana Barraza for “Babel” (2006) and Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers” (2019), along with DeBose, are the representation for Latinas. Only Barraza and DeBose’s SAG noms have translated to Oscars attention.

DeBose’s co-star Moreno became the first, and still, only Latina to ever win an acting Oscar, for the 1961 original version, where she also played the dancing seamstress. In the remake, she plays the newly created role of Valentina. If DeBose wins the Oscar, she would become the second Latina to win an acting Oscar.

DeBose noted that the SAG Awards in-person gathering gave her a chance to indulge herself on the first large-scale red carpet in more than two years. DeBose said she had a memorable encounter on the carpet outside Barker Hangar with one of her idols, Lady Gaga. “That was my fangirl moment. Not gonna apologize for it. I stand by it,” DeBose said.