Ariana DeBose made history on Sunday night by becoming the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar for her work as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” The musical was distributed by 20th Century Studios, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company.
On the Academy Awards red carpet before the ceremony, I talked with DeBose about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. DeBose says she has reached out to Disney CEO Bob Chapek to talk about the studio’s controversial reaction to the legislation.
“Bob and I, we’re gonna do the work,” DeBose said. “I have [spoken to Chapek]. I’m a very hands-on type of person. And when I see something, I say something. And while I may not always put it on the internet, I do that. I reached out. And I will continue to reach out and Bob knows that.”
When I asked about queer representation at this year’s Oscars, which also included best actress nominee Kristen Stewart, DeBose smiled. “We’re here. We’re queer. And we’ve been here.”
Earlier this month, Chapek came under fire for Disney’s reported donations to the bill’s sponsors. Variety exclusively reported at the time that LGBTQ Disney employees sent the CEO and other company executives a letter asking that the company issue a statement against anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S.
Chapek was blasted when he eventually addressed the issue by saying that the “biggest impact” Disney can make is by promoting inclusivity through its content.
During her acceptance speech on Sunday, DeBose delivered a powerful message: “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.”
On Monday, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, the Walk Disney Company promised to work on repealing the legislation.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the statement reads. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”