Spirit Awards: 8 Most Memorable Moments

6:33 PM 2/23/2019

by Abbey White

Boots Riley, Alfonso Cuaron and Glenn Close's dog were among the highlights of the beach-set Saturday ceremony.

Shangela Laquifa Wadley
Shangela Laquifa Wadley
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Held at the beach in Santa Monica and hosted by Audrey Plaza, the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards celebrated the best in this year’s independent filmmaking on Saturday.

During the kudocast, aired live on IFC, Alfonso Cuaron took on the ceremony's categorizations, Glenn Close accepted an award with her dog and a Fyre Festival spoof served as some of the night's highlights. Additionally, a number of those who took the stage, including best director winner Barry Jenkins, called for better female representation.

Read on for more memorable moments from the 34th annual Spirit Awards.


  • Barry Jenkins Urges Colleagues to Make Female-Directed Films

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    Barry Jenkins has become known for focusing on characters often marginalized in mainstream stories, and the If Beale Street Could Talk director used his platform during the Independent Spirit Awards to highlight that even further after receiving the honor for best director.

    During his acceptance speech, Jenkins admitted he didn't want the "damn award," then launched into the ways that Hollywood can band together to make women a bigger presence in cinematic stories and the industry as a whole. Mirroring comments made by star Regina King at the Golden Globes, he noted that women only make up 4 percent of studio directors but "make up 60 percent who are nominated for this award."

    Added Jenkins: "So, I want to look out at this room — all these producers, all these directors, all these financiers, my reps, all these lawyers — and say if even just 30 percent of us agreed with Regina to, within the next 18 months, to produce or finance a film directed by a woman, the 4 percent would become the 8 percent, would become the 12 percent, would become the 16 percent."




  • Aubrey Plaza Helps Spoof Netflix's Fyre Festival Doc

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    Host Aubrey Plaza didn't miss a chance to take on some of the latest hot films, and that included taking a swipe at Netflix's Fyre Festival documentary. For the sketch, Plaza turned to her former Parks and Recreation co-star Jim O'Heir to recreate one of the film's most infamous moments. As O'Heir sat in a wood-paneled room, he recounted how Plaza came to him with a hurried, desperate request that only a friend could fulfill.

    Joking that the awards show had spent the majority of its budget on flying out John Waters, whom Plaza claimed was directing the show, O'Heir would need to go the extra mile to ensure attendees had water by going to CostCo and ingratiating himself to a cashier named Joel. "Will you save this awards show and suck his dick?" O'Heir recounted Plaza asking of him. Almost exactly like the Fyre Festival interview, a smiling O'Heir then admitted that he went home, took a shower, used some mouthwash and "prepared to suck his dick ... because that’s what friends are for." 

  • Boots Riley Speaks About Political Violence in Venezuela

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    Boots Riley's acceptance speech for his best first feature win (Sorry to Bother You) was part cast reunion and part call to action. After sharing a tight embrace with star Lakeith Stanfield while approaching the stage, the remaining castmembers in attendance trickled in behind him, including Armie Hammer, who nearly skidded onto the stage and was quickly, warmly and somewhat loudly embraced by his fellow castmembers. 

    As the cast bonded behind him, Riley's speech become the most directly political of the afternoon, first calling out a lack of class struggle in film. The director pointed to "the real movements happening out there on the streets," as well as the themes of his film that had largely been "edited out" of other movies. "Now is the time to not be doing that," Riley said. 

    His speech then took an even harder political turn as he called out the CIA's involvement in conflicts in Venezuela before asking everyone in the audience to use their voices to speak out against the U.S. government. 

    "I also want to say that the CIA is trying to have a coup in Venezuela," Riley said. "We should all be putting our voices out to stop the U.S. from having regime change for oil in Venezuela."

  • Drag Queen Shangela Delivers a Musical Tribute to Nominated Films

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    While there were a number of "performances" in the forms of skits and sketches all evening, Shangela's drag medley tribute to some of the night's featured films received some of the most interesting and varied crowd responses. Performing in a glittering body suit and flanked by a number of shirtless dancing men, the Star Is Born actress dipped, twirled and death-dropped to her hilarious cinematic homage. The performance lyrically took on First ReformedLeave No Trace and You Were Never Really Here, among others. 

    “If Beale Street Could Talk, what would she say? ‘Step aside, bitch, I’ve the right of way,'” Shangela sang at one point. 

  • Glenn Close's Dog Steals the Show

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    Glenn Close's acceptance speech after she won best female lead honors for her role in The Wife followed the lead of many of the night's other speeches, spotlighting the work of women in Hollywood and the time it often takes to get projects funded. But in the midst of the actress celebrating her fellow nominees and acknowledging the 14 years it took to get The Wife to the big screen, her dog stole the spotlight.  

    “What’s better than that?” Close said about her pet's presence on the stage. “I brought him up for this very reason. It’s called 'in the moment.'”

    Close did eventually get to take the spotlight back, and used the remaining portion of her speech to champion using stories to make a difference. 

    "I'm so honored to be here with all the other women in this category," she said. "No matter what you’re wearing, no matter what red carpet you walk on, no matter what people said to you ... the fact that we get together and tell these stories and make a difference in this world, that’s what we get together to do." 

  • Alfonso Cuaron Challenges "International" Category Distinction

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    Roma director Alfonso Cuaron used his acceptance speech to challenge the existence of the Spirits Awards best international film category on Saturday. The Mexican film, which is also in the running for best picture at the Oscars, was inspired by the writer-director's childhood in 1970s Mexico City, and heavily focuses on class desparity and the lives of its female leads, played by actresses Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira.

    "Obviously thank you to those three women at the table," Cuaron began his speech, in keeping with the evening's celebration of female talent. He then pivoted to discussing Hollywood's expanding diversity, and how that could soon make the category in which he won obsolete.

    "It seems that we're in a moment in which a greater diversity is happening in cinema," Cuaron said. "I think that this greater diversity will very soon make the category irrelevant."


  • Sterling K. Brown and Bryan Tyree Henry Get Meta

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    The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards opened with a cultish sketch that featured host Aubrey Plaza sacrificing Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard in order to channel the spirit of the Spirit Awards. In the darkly funny skit, Plaza was flanked by fellow actresses Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Ricci, Rosanna Arquette, Sharon Stone and Marisa Tomei, while Atlanta star Bryan Tyree Henry looked on in horror. Henry had accidentally stumbled into the sacrifice, which he thought was going to be a party. 

    That skit was later fodder for Henry and co-presenter and This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown, who drew on the comedic trope of being the lone, sane black person in a horror scenario.

    "You were really funny in that opening bit, bruh," Brown told his co-presenter. "White people were doing crazy shit and you were there, like, 'White people are doing crazy shit,' because otherwise they wouldn't know that's what they were doing."

    "That's what we're here for, just to let you know," Brown told the audience. The jokes didn't stop there, though. The two both riffed on the fact that they were two men presenting the award for the best supporting female lead before bestowing the honor for the "true queens of film," Henry said. 



  • Bonnie Award Winner Debra Granik Talks About "Soaring"

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    "I thought about soaring, flying, ascending, pushing forward and going the distance," said this year's Bonnie Award winner, Debra Granik, honored on behalf of Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, who was the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline.

    Onstage, the filmmaker stressed the importance of "stories of everyday life. What it takes to survive when that survival has not been given to you. Stories are how we figure out how to navigate life."

    Granik, the director of Winter's Bone and Leave No Trace, added that she is "encouraged to be in a tent with people who like to fly with women. It’s a great feeling. Although change can happen slowly in other tents, in other venues, it’s happening rather robustly under the people who love on Film Independent."