Best Supporting Oscar winner Ariana DeBose knew what her win meant as a lady of color. But life after the win is what made her nervous—and has pleasantly surprised her. The Women in Hollywood honoree dedicated her speech at ELLE’s Getty Center celebration to discussing her profession path, the pressure she felt representing her community, and what her experience within the industry has really been like as an Afro-Latina.
“I didn’t see a number of me onscreen growing up, and as a queer woman I knew this moment mattered,” DeBose said of her Oscar win. “And once I won, my best fear was that I used to be a poster child for all this stuff and I’d in some way be told, ‘Thanks for checking all those boxes, and now please take your Oscar and go away.’ But that didn’t occur. I’m still here, still being asked to play parts that matter, and still being invited to wildly impressive and joyous gatherings like this one.”
DeBose’s remarks herself paid tribute to the man actors who lifted her up, her journey, and what comes next. Read her complete speech below:
Whew, my word! I cried I lot, I even have a number of feelings straight away. Thanks a lot to ELLE, to Kerry, my angel, and to everyone here tonight for this incredible honor. That is an award about impact, in order I started fascinated with what to say tonight, I in fact first watched Mamma Mia! for the 5 millionth time, after which I started working. I began fascinated with all of the moments which have impacted me, the folks that have influenced me, and what I’ve learned is that impact is type of what you make of it. You can take a compliment and let it make you’re feeling secure, or you can take a negative comment and let it live in your heart perpetually. Or… you can turn that negativity into fuel and toss it onto the hearth of your creativity.
Here’s how I learned that lesson. Once I was on Broadway, I said yes to jobs I “had no business” doing. I used to be forged in Motown the Musical and I understudied Diana Ross on the age of 21—I do not know what I used to be pondering. While you’re moving into iconic shoes like that, you have got to sing, you have got to act, you have got sound like a legend while you do it. I could have listened to the various internal and external whispers that said I had no business doing that job, or that, to be perfectly frank, I wasn’t Black enough to be doing that job. As an alternative I heard those whispers, and I tossed them onto the hearth. That burning made me do the work I needed to do, the work that I knew I could do, and so, I did it.
And once I filmed The Prom, there I used to be, in a movie with Kerry Washington and, um, Meryl Streep? Again, I’ve watched Mamma Mia! 5 million times. Now, I had prepared myself to actually be that Broadway girl nobody had heard of or cared about, but Kerry greeted me with confidence and heat and she or he was literally like, “Hi, I’m Kerry, and I’m here for you.” I just remember being so nervous, but not only did she make me feel like I belonged on that set, she made me see that I actually had something to supply, she told me that I belonged, she showed me I belonged. She helped carve out an area for me and I continued to carve it out for myself. And he or she was right. I did.
Once I got the role of Anita in West Side Story, there was a part of me that sincerely thought I had absolutely no business doing that job, or working with Steven Spielberg, or reprising a job that was made iconic by the legendary Rita Moreno. But when I’m honest, my biggest challenge was not the performance, the music, or the role—it was not listening to the comparisons and never being influenced by what people were saying about us. To her credit, Rita set the tone and she or he gave me a masterclass on how you’ll be able to impact those around you. She’s cultured, she’s learned, she’s sensible, and she or he helped make space for me.
The support I felt from the amazing community of ladies, the community on this business, it really helped me cope with the pressure I felt. And I DID feel the pressure, because my being Afro-Latina was A Thing. And what? Rightfully so, it should’ve been. Now, as an Afro-Latina, I didn’t see a number of me onscreen growing up, and as a queer woman I knew this moment mattered. And once I won, my best fear was that I used to be a poster child for all this stuff, that in some way be told, “Thanks for checking all those boxes for us, and now please take your Oscar and go away.” But that didn’t occur, and for some odd reason, I’m still here, still being asked to play parts that matter, and still being invited to wildly impressive and joyous gatherings like this one.
Once I first got here into this business, truthfully, I used to be nervous that other women of color won’t be kind or welcoming to me, because there gave the impression to be this myth that there are so few opportunities and places for us to exist. But that hasn’t been my experience.
Many of the women I meet on this industry are welcoming and collaborative, and that’s the impact I would like to have for other women, and other women of color. There’s loads of room for all of us and it’s as much as all of us to welcome everyone through the door to this industry.
Thanks, Kerry, for teaching me that.
For me, meeting this moment, at this event, and receiving this award is recognizing that evem with the changes in my circumstances, I feel comfortable enough to indicate up in any way that meets my humanity. There’s power in being yourself, in being authentic, and there’s a number of power on this room tonight.
ELLE, Nina, my God—thanks to you and your team. You do such an attractive job of celebrating all of our elements of womanhood, our personhood. We’re all different, but we’re together, celebrating and validating ourselves. It’s actually one in all the primary time I’ve felt comfortable in Hollywood. That is the truth. Now, I do feel very young to have had an impact on this world, but I’m grateful to the individuals who have shown me that what I’m doing matters.
So, now what? What do I do with this moment? I feel back to all of the auditions, all the hassle, all of the work, concerning the individuals who have impacted me… and I feel the reply is straightforward. I just proceed to do the work. I’ll follow the wonderful example of ladies like Kerry, Rita, my dear friend Aida Rodriguez, who’s here tonight, that woman showed me support like no person else during awards season, and I’ll perpetually be grateful, hermana. And what? The instance of the entire honorees tonight, while a few of you might be recent to me, I even have looked as much as every one in all you for a really very long time, and it is a privilege to be amongst you. We’ll proceed to create space for everybody else rushing through that big, wide open door. And to women like me on the market asking what to do to satisfy the moment? It’s easy.
You dance your ass off.