If it were up to Oscar-nominated actress and Broadway star Ariana DeBose (West Side Story), every role she played would be unambiguously Afro-Latine. It’s a point she made during a recent interview with the L.A. Times.
What DeBose is referring to are characters in films, TV, or onstage that are described as “ethnically ambiguous” for actors auditioning for the parts. “I now hold the belief that [saying ‘ethnically ambiguous’] can be a very damaging term,” DeBose said. “I would love it if we would stop using it.”
DeBose said that she believes using the phrase “ethnically ambiguous” is akin to saying that “there is no specific ethnicity for this character.” Although she’s done it before, she considers portraying characters in that way “gray,” which, in her experience, usually means they are a “sidekick” character and not integral to the plot.
“As someone with a lived experience that feels like [it] has been relegated to the gray, it’s not something that is given light,” she said. “We don’t shine light on gray…that bothers me. To me, there are no small parts; every part matters. So, why not just say, ‘Ethnicity is not specific to the portrayal of this character. Come in with an idea.’”
That’s what DeBose talked to filmmaker Steven Spielberg about when auditioning for the role of Anita in his version of West Side Story. “If I was going to [play Anita], I would want to give it a new perspective, and my being gives it a new perspective,” she said. “My Afro Latinidad, my heritage, my lived experience as a Black woman can give this something new, maybe something we’ve yet to see.”
Now, we’re wondering what that means for Ariana DeBose’ next project. According to Deadline, DeBose will be in Sony Picture’s upcoming film, Kraven the Hunter. And many are guessing that she’s set to play supervillain Calypso. Will she be “ethnically ambiguous” then? We hope not.