SANTA MONICA, CALIF.: The 31st Independent Film Spirit Awards provided a clear rebuke to the Oscars, bestowing awards on Beasts of No Nation co-stars Idris Elba and Abraham Attah and Tangerine star Mya Taylor, making her the first transgender actress to win at the annual awards.
The newsroom drama Spotlight was the big winner at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, the day before it will compete for best picture at the Academy Awards. It won a leading four awards, including best picture, best director for Tom McCarthy, best screenplay and the Robert Altman award for ensemble.
But this year’s Spirit Awards, an annual dressed-down indie antidote to the Oscars, was most remarkable for its wider diversity of nominees and winners. Neither Elba, Attah or Taylor were even nominated for Oscars. Each drew hearty applause.
“There is transgender talent,” said Taylor, who played a Los Angeles sex worker in the iPhone-shot film. “There’s very beautiful transgender talent. You better get out there and put it in your movie.”
In recent years, the Spirits have overlapped considerably with the Oscars, including the last two top winners: Birdman and 12 Years a Slave. But this year, the Spirits — which honor films made for $20 million or less — widely deviated from their stuffier crosstown counterparts.
Spotlight was the only best picture nominee up for the Spirits’ top award; the bigger budget Oscar favorites it’s seen as vying with, The Revenant and The Big Short, didn’t qualify for the Spirits. And while the Oscars have been bested by criticism for a second straight year of all-white acting nominees, the Spirits boasted five nonwhite nominees out of 20 — and three of them won.
“I’m so much prouder of being a producer than my performance,” Elba said backstage about the Netflix release. “As a producer you face a lot of doors being closed in your face and in this case we did have a hard time making it but we got there in the end.”
Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live and comedian Kumail Nanjiani hosted the ceremony, which was broadcast live on IFC. In their opening remarks, Nanjiani introduced them as a Pakistani-American and a gay woman, “or to Hollywood, a straight woman and her IT guy.”
The only Oscar acting favorite, Brie Larson, added another win for her performance in the captive drama Room. Emma Donoghue, the novelist-turned-screenwriter, also won for best adapted screenplay for the film.
The foreign language favorite from Hungary, Laszlo Nemes’ Holocaust drama Son of Saul, took best international film.
Director Marielle Heller, who won best first feature for Diary of a Teenage Girl, sounded aware that her film’s success meant new attention for the movie’s breakout star, Bel Powley. But Heller marked her claim on Powley. “I call dibs,” she said.