‘West Side Story’s’ Ariana DeBose is taking risks and making history

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Hello! It’s Mark Olsen, film writer for The Times and “The Envelope” podcast co-host.

This week on the show, I’m chatting with Oscar nominee Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story.” DeBose — who reportedly turned down the role four times before finally auditioning — has been outspoken about her initial hesitation to sign on to the project. In the past, she had been told that she was “too Black to be considered Hispanic.” (DeBose is in fact Puerto Rican.) She was also asking herself, “Do we need to tell this story again?” In this interview, DeBose tells me why she ultimately decided to accept the role, why we need to retire the term “ethnically ambiguous” and the bold proclamation she made to Spielberg during her first audition.

Ariana DeBose

To hear more, you can listen to the full conversation now wherever you get your podcasts or on, where you can also read the full transcript.

“For the longest time, it was assumed that I was African American and no one ever really asked me how I identified. And then when I did ask to be seen for Hispanic roles, even English-speaking Hispanic roles — whether on Broadway or in the film and television realm — 9 times out of 10, I was told I was too Black to be considered Hispanic. So honestly ‘West Side Story’ is the first time I’ve ever been considered for a role that is something I actually am.”

— — “West Side Story” actor Ariana DeBose

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