Anita in ‘West Side Story’: Will she be the 8th female character to merit multiple Oscar nominations?

Sixty years ago, the first screen adaptation of the Tony-winning musical “West Side Story” made history as the second film to win at least 10 competitive Oscars, falling just one short of the record set by “Ben-Hur” (1960) and later matched by “Titanic” (1998) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2004). In addition to receiving the top honor of Best Picture, the film won both supporting acting prizes on the merit of George Chakiris and Rita Moreno’s performances.

At 90, Moreno now appears in a different capacity in a new “West Side Story” adaptation, having passed her role of Anita on to Ariana DeBose. If DeBose ends up following in Moreno’s footsteps all the way to the Dolby stage, Anita will become the first character to inspire two Best Supporting Actress nominations and the first female one in Oscars history to produce two wins.

While there are 20 examples of male roles that have led to multiple Oscar nominations over the course of 93 years, there are just seven on the female side. The first, which predated all of those on the male list, was fictional adulteress Leslie Crosbie, played by 1930 and 1941 Best Actress nominees Jeanne Eagels and Bette Davis in different versions of “The Letter.”

Next came Esther Blodgett, a role that brought Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland lead bids for the 1937 and 1954 versions of “A Star Is Born,” respectively. Lady Gaga was also included in 2019’s Best Actress lineup for the latest “A Star Is Born” remake, though her character’s name was changed to Ally Maine.

In 1998, Gloria Stuart and Kate Winslet broke new ground as the first pair of performers ever nominated for playing the same character in the same film. Both earned notices for their portrayals of Rose DeWitt Bukater in “Titanic,” with the former being classified as supporting and the latter as lead.

The next year, Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench were both nominated for taking on the role of Queen Elizabeth I in different films. Blanchett’s lead bid came for “Elizabeth” while Dench took home a supporting trophy for “Shakespeare in Love.” When Blanchett was recognized for the sequel film “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” in 2008, the queen became the first female character to produce three Oscar nominations.

In 2002, the role of Iris Murdoch in “Iris” brought nominations to both leading lady Dench and featured player Winslet.

Jo March was then added to the roster in 2020 when Saoirse Ronan received a lead bid for “Little Women” 25 years after Winona Ryder was recognized in the same category.

And in 2021 jazz singer Billie Holiday joined the group, having been played by Best Actress nominees Diana Ross (“Lady Sings the Blues,” 1973) and Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” 2021). 

While no female roles have led to multiple wins, there are two examples on the male side: Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando, “The Godfather,” 1973 and Robert De Niro, “The Godfather Part II,” 1975) and The Joker (Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight,” 2009 and Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker,” 2020).

If DeBose ends up triumphing for her take on Anita, she will be just 307 days older than Moreno was when she won the gold. According to our odds, she ranks second in the supporting female race behind only Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”), while Moreno is holding her own in eighth place. Rounding out the current top five are Caitriona Balfe (“Belfast”), Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), and Ruth Negga (“Passing”). 

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