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Latinos win big at the Golden Globes

Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose won acting awards for “West Side Story,” and Mj Rodriguez for "Pose." “Encanto,” with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, won best animated feature.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Rachel Zegler attends the premiere for the film "West Side Story" at El Capitan theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Rachel Zegler attends the premiere of "West Side Story" at El Capitan theater in Los Angeles last month. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Latinos won big at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, with Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose taking the top acting awards for “West Side Story,” Mj Rodriguez winning for her role on the FX show "Pose," and “Encanto” winning best animated feature.

Zegler won for best actress in a motion picture and DeBose for best supporting actress for their roles in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic 1957 Broadway play. Michaela Jaé “Mj” Rodriguez took home the award for best actress in a TV drama for her role as housemother and nurse Blanca, becoming the first transgender actor to win a Golden Globe.

Zegler, who is Colombian American, wrote on Twitter that she won the award exactly three years after she was cast as María, on Jan. 9, 2019. "Life is very strange," she wrote.

DeBose, who is Afro Latina, said on Twitter after her win, "There is still work to be done, but when you’ve worked so hard on a project — infused with blood, sweat, tears and love — having the work seen and acknowledged is always going to be special. Thank you."

On Instagram, Rodriguez wrote about her win: “They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark, New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS. To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

Many Puerto Ricans and Latinos felt seen for the first time in the 1961 movie version of “West Side Story,” the first large-scale film to acknowledge the presence of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland. But in it, almost all of the Puerto Rican characters were played by white actors in brownface and spoke with an accent that barely resembled Spanish — much less Puerto Ricans’ distinct pronunciations. Even Rita Moreno, the sole Puerto Rican in the cast, was forced to speak with an exaggerated accent and wear brown makeup to darken her skin.

“Being the first Latino to play her on screen,” Zegler told NBC News in December about María, “that was a huge moment.”

Zegler said her Hispanic heritage and experiences strongly informed the way she approached the role.

Ariana DeBose as Anita in "West Side Story." Niko Tavernise

"I spoke Spanish on the street and was told to go back from where I came from, even though I was born in New Jersey," Zegler said. "That’s the reality of being a Latina in the United States."DeBose told NBC News in an interview about how she approached her role of Anita, over half a century after the original musical and movie.

“I was very adamant that whatever interpretation I delivered for this performance was going to be massively different,” DeBose said. “By virtue of being a Black woman, that makes it a different portrayal, because my physical manifestation has to inform this particular version.”

In the remake, Anita doesn’t shy away from bringing up issues of colorism and racism within her own Latino community — and how it affects her perception of the world. In one scene, Bernardo suggests that Anita is not really part of his family, even though they all live under the same roof and she pays rent. Anita calls him out in Spanish, asking if he said that because she is “prieta,” Puerto Rican slang for dark-skinned or Black.

Encanto,” which means “charm” in Spanish, is the 60th animated Disney feature film. With songs and music by “Hamilton” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, it tells the story of the Madrigals, a multigenerational family who live in the mountains of Colombia.

Two generations of Madrigal children get magical powers on their fifth birthdays, which define them both at home and in the village. They can make plants grow and flowers bloom, control the weather with their emotions, heal people with food, speak with animals and even see the future. 

In a previous interview with NBC News, Miranda spoke about how he and others involved with the movie traveled to Colombia ahead of the songwriting and moviemaking.

“Every time we leaned into the specificities of Colombian music, that always unlocks story, it always unlocks character for us,” Miranda, of Puerto Rican heritage, said. “The specificities are the thing that make it relatable.”

Latina actor Stephanie Beatriz, who voiced the main teen, Mirabel, on “Encanto,” said in a previous NBC News interview that they harnessed their own family experiences when they made the movie.

“When I think about my childhood, it’s a lot of people talking all at once, animatedly, over each other — there’s, like, 10 conversations happening in one room, and as a kid you’re just trying to follow everything that’s going on,” said Beatriz, whose parents are Colombian and Bolivian. “It’s very loud and super rhythmic. I think that the flavor of that, the sensibility of that, is really captured within the music of this animated musical, which I think is very special.” 

Ariana Debose won best supporting actress Sunday at the 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.Emma McIntyre / Getty Images

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is behind the awards, has been criticized for its lack of diversity, with the organization unveiling steps last year to achieve “transformation change.”

The ceremony that took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles was not broadcast on network television and wasn’t available for livestreaming. The winners were announced on social media.

The Globes are typically seen as a bellwether for the upcoming Academy Awards.

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