Beyond ‘The Slap’: NC’s Ariana DeBose Is the Real Story of This Year’s Oscars

North Carolina-born actress, dancer, and singer Ariana DeBose arrives at the Oscars Sunday. She shattered boundaries with her Academy Award win for "Best Supporting Actress." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

By Billy Ball

March 28, 2022

The Wilmington-born actress, singer, and dancer became the first openly queer, Afro-Latino actress to win an Oscar.

“To anybody who’s 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.” 

Ariana DeBose, the North Carolina-born actress, singer, and dancer spoke from the stage of the Academy Awards Sunday evening. 

Never mind celebrities slapping other celebrities. DeBose is the story of the 94th Academy Awards.

DeBose’s victory Sunday night breaks a boatload of boundaries. She’s not just the first Afro-Latina to win an Oscar for acting. She’s also the first openly queer woman of color to do so.

To some, Hollywood seems a bastion of liberal thought. But if American film is indeed a mirror for American culture, Hollywood’s always been a mirror of the fun house variety – more white, more straight, more heteronormative than it had any right to be. 

For an art form that proclaims itself technicolor, the Academy Awards have a history of being one shade. 

A 2019 Pew analysis found that of the nation’s 46.8 million Black Americans, about 5% identify as Afro-Latino. That’s more than double the number in 2000. But while the film industry has long neglected Latino performers, its award shows have been especially oblivious of dark-skinned Latino performers. 

DeBose’s win is an acknowledgement of her talent and versatility. But the actress — who escorted her mother, a North Carolina educator, to the awards — has always seen her success in a big, big picture, as she alluded to in her acceptance speech.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus,” she said. “When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.” 

Art can be used to celebrate, commiserate, document, and enliven. But DeBose has used hers to inspire too.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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