Spirit Awards: A 'Moonlight' Love-In Becomes a Trump Rebuke

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Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins' drama took home six awards, including best film, while top acting honors went to Casey Affleck and Isabelle Huppert.

Moonlight was extravagantly and emotionally applauded and President Donald Trump was excoriated at the 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards, which were held Saturday afternoon in a beachside tent in Santa Monica.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, which sympathetically portrays a marginal figure — a young, gay, black man growing up in a Miami housing project — was named best film and took all the awards for which it was nominated: Jenkins was heralded as best director, and, along with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, also picked up the best screenplay award; best cinematography went to James Laxton, who said to Jenkins, “Thank you for existing on this planet”; and the best editing trophy was given to Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon.

Moonlight, from production companies Plan B and A24, was also presented with the previously announced Robert Altman Award, given to a film’s director, cast and its casting director, Yesi Ramirez. Speaking on behalf of his fellow castmembers, Andre Holland praised Jenkins and McCraney for believing that “poetry and beauty and elevation of thought and complexity of feeling are worthwhile things to explore.”

Moonlight’s focus on the most marginal members of society found an echo in that of another movie honored, writer-director Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night, which received the John Cassavetes Award, given to a film made for less than $500,000. That movie tells of a young Korean-American man coming to terms with his homosexuality, and Ahn said: “This is so meaningful that this award is going to a film about a Korean-American immigrant family, about queer Korean-American people. Now more than ever, it’s so important that we support stories told by and about people who are marginalized.”

The politics of the moment, as the Trump administration sets about reversing many of the policies set in place by President Barack Obama and earlier administrations, were clearly alluded to in a number of acceptances in which the speakers spoke of a more inclusive vision. And in accepting his award as best lead actor for playing a grief-stricken man in Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck made a point of saying, “The policies of this administration are abhorrent, and they will not last. They are really un-American.” He added, “I know this feels preachy and boring, and I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m just adding my voice to the chorus.”

But the direct Trump-bashing was kept to a minimum. In the opening monologue from the show’s hosts, comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, the latter taunted: “Hey, Trump, you and [suspected murderer] Robert Durst are both rich sociopaths from New York real estate empires, yet somehow Robert Durst is more likeable.” And Kroll got in a knock at presidential adviser Steve Bannon, joking, “The only reason he got the job is because he’s so hot.”

As the afternoon unfolded, Isabelle Huppert emphasized the importance of independence when she was called to the stage as best female lead for her fierce performance as a woman who refuses to be victimized in Elle. “It’s independence that makes art win,” she proclaimed.

Ben Foster was named best supporting male for his ex-con bank robber in Hell or High Water. And Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon took the prize as best supporting actress for playing a mother dying of cancer in Other People. A clearly jazzed Shannon became serious for a moment to say, “Cancer has become a part of so many people’s lives,” continuing, “I think these stories can be the most necessary kinds of stories to tell.” Then, reverting back to her SNL character of high-schooler Mary Katherine Gallagher, she concluded by striking her signature “Superstar” pose.

Maren Ade earned the prize for best international film for her father-daughter comedy Toni Erdmann. “I’m really happy and also proud to stand here as a female director; it’s still not normal enough that women are directing films,” she said to enthusiastic applause.

Ezra Edelman’s epic O.J.: Made in America continued its awards-season winning streak as it was named best documentary.

Robert Eggers’ The Witch, a period horror movie centering on a haunted Puritan family in 17th century New England, was hailed as both best first feature and best first screenplay, and, among his thank-yous, Eggers singled out the Puritans themselves for writing down their experiences.

Three filmmaker grants, which were announced last month, were also awarded: Jordana Mollick won the Piaget Producers Award; Anna Rose Holmer, director of The Fits, won the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award; and Nanfu Wang, director of Hooligan Sparrow, won the Truer Than Fiction Award.

Indie company A24 was the distributor that claimed most wins — eight in all, including six for Moonlight and two for The Witch. Sony Pictures Classics could claim two key wins in the awards for Elle and Toni Erdmann.