Spirit Awards: Spotlight Sweeps the Major Categories and Tangerine Actress Mya Taylor Makes History

<em>Spotlight</em> snags five awards and Taylor becomes the first transgender actress to win at the annual celebration of independent film
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What a day at the beach at the 31stFilm Independent Spirit Awards! The annual awards show, held on Santa Monica Beach, started with eternally best dressed actress Cate Blanchett (nominated for Carol) hitting the carpet and immediately cracking a joke about her ensemble, “I made it myself. A little craft project,” she said with her sunglasses still on. When asked again she replied, “Gucci, darling.” Blanchett was followed on the carpet by Brie Larson, Paul Dano, Jessica Biel, Anthony Mackie, Ken Jeong, J.K. Simmons, and others as they all made their way into the white tent. Sean Penn ducked the carpet on the way in and I kept finding him behind the stage outside sneaking smokes throughout the show.

Cate Blanchett arriving at the Film Independent Spirit Awards
Cate Blanchett arriving at the Film Independent Spirit Awards

Photograph by Kari Mozena

Kate McKinnon and Kumail Nanjiani co-hosted the affair and started the show getting laughs from everyone except Penn when Nanjiani joked, “Sean Penn is here. He saw all these tents and thought there were some refugees he could help.” The co-hosts spoof of Carol, however, got Blanchett and Carol co-star Rooney Mara crying with laughter. Spotlight then went on to win everything from the Robert Altman Award to Best Feature. During one of the cast’s many trips backstage, director Tom McCarthy said, “Our first job as filmmakers is to be entertaining, right?” he began, “But when you have material like this, we all knew it going in that we had an opportunity here based again on the work they [the journalists present] did and we could give this story a whole new platform, a far reaching platform, and hopefully an enduring platform that would continue the dialogue on sexual abuse, not just in the Catholic church but on a wider spectrum.”

The director, cast, and journalists represented in the film Spotlight
The director, cast, and journalists represented in the film Spotlight

Photograph by Kari Mozena

Idris Elba won Best Supporting Male for his role in Beasts Of No Nation. He came into the press tent following his win with his sunglasses on and the same lid he had on the other night at the Oscar Wilde Awards (good luck, maybe?). “It was hard,” he said of his gruesome role. “I had a baby a month before I started filming, my first son, and then I went off and made that film. And it was the toughest thing for me to do because my mind wasn’t in that space. So it became a challenge that I had to really embrace.” His co-star 16-year-old Abraham Attah also won a Spirit Award for Best Male lead.

Idris Elba
Idris Elba

Photograph by Kari Mozena

But it was Mya Taylor’s win for Best Supporting Female that stole the show. Taylor became the first transgender actress to win a Spirit Award for her role in Tangerine (which was shot on a supped up iPhone, by the way). She ended her inspiration speech with this message, “There is transgender talent. There’s very beautiful transgender talent. So, you better get it out there and put it in your next movie.” Backstage she was still spreading inspiration, “You can do whatever you put your mind to,” she said to a rapt audience. “My next project is working on my TV show. It will be very educational, but it will be very funny and very dramatic at the same time. Everything that Tangerine is but it will be a lot more.”

Mya Taylor
Mya Taylor

Photograph by Kari Mozena

Here is a complete list of winners:

Best Feature: Spotlight (Open Road Films)

Producers: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar

Best Director: Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (Open Road Films)

Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, Spotlight (Open Road Films)

Best First Feature: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: Marielle Heller

Producers: Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit

Best First Screenplay: Emma Donoghue, Room (A24)

John Cassavetes Award (For best feature made under $500,000): Krisha (A24)

Writer/Director/Producer: Trey Edward Shults

Producers: Justin R. Chan, Chase Joliet, Wilson Smith

Best Supporting Female: Mya Taylor,Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Supporting Male: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (Bleecker Street/Netflix)

Best Female Lead: Brie Larson, Room (A24)

Best Male Lead: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation (Bleecker Street/Netflix)

Robert Altman Award: Spotlight (Open Road Films)

Director: Tom McCarthy

Casting Directors: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee

Ensemble Cast: Billy Crudup, Michael Cyril Creighton, Paul Guilfoyle, Neal Huff, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Jamey Sheridan, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci

Best Cinematography: Ed Lachman, Carol (The Weinstein Company)

Best Editing: Tom McArdle, Spotlight (Open Road Films)

Best International Film: Son of Saul (Hungary – Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: László Nemes

Best Documentary: The Look of Silence (Drafthouse Films/Participant Media)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Producer: Signe Byrge Sørensen