‘West Side Story’: Ariana DeBose on Taking Over the Role of Anita as an Afro-Latinx Actress

west side story anita

Stephen Spielberg’s new rendition of the iconic musical West Side Story is packed with unfamiliar faces. Much of the cast find themselves breaking out on the big screen for the first time, fresh off the stages of Broadway. One of these up-and-coming stars is Ariana DeBose, who takes up the torch once carried by the great Rita Moreno, in the role of Anita. During a recent press junket, DeBose was asked what it was like to follow in the footsteps of someone as iconic as Moreno. Her answer immediately, and appropriately, addressed the topic of race and how it factored into the doubt she had about being cast:

Y’know, I feel like my answer to that question is going to change every time. Depending on the moment I’m in. When I was first asked to audition, I had to be pushed into the room. I inherently did not think this was ever a job that I would book, because Anitas don’t look like us. They look like Rita Moreno.

Ariana DeBose

The actress, who has darker skin than most of her costars, felt it was important this aspect be explored in her character’s updated storyline. She went on to explain:

I was, not shocked, but just like really amazed that Stephen [Spielberg] and Tony [Kushner] were open to having the conversation around it. Because it was something I said in the room, ‘If we don’t want to touch on that, y’know, by virtue of me being a black woman, and that can inform this character’s path, then maybe this isn’t the choice for you. Maybe I’m not the choice for you.’ And then you get the job and you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, okay, cool. I have a point of view. I know what I’m trying to accomplish and I feel prepared. Everything’s going to be fine.’

Ariana DeBose

Luckily, the filmmakers behind the production agreed to make this part of Anita’s arc in the movie. Now fans are fortunate to have DeBose’s fresh take on the character to root for when the film drops on December 10th.

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