‘Nomadland,’ ‘Sound of Metal’ Among 36th Film Independent Spirit Award Winners

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Photo Source: Courtesy Searchlight Pictures / Courtesy Amazon Studios

Reflecting the ingenuity and resilience of its community, Film Independent’s 36th annual Spirit Awards united remote filmmakers in a celebratory virtual event rather than under the usual Santa Monica beach tent. The April 22 ceremony was hosted by Melissa Villaseñor and honored the best of independent film and, for the first time, groundbreaking television.

“Nomadland,” from Searchlight Pictures and multihyphenate filmmaker Chloé Zhao, continued its awards season winning streak with victories in the directing, cinematography, editing, and best feature Spirit categories. It bested “First Cow” (from A24), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix), “Minari” (A24), and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features) for the top prize. 

Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal” also fared well, winning for best first feature, leading actor Riz Ahmed, and supporting male Paul Raci, while Focus Features’ “Promising Young Woman” was recognized for writer-director Emerald Fennell’s screenplay and leading actress Carey Mulligan. Youn Yuh-Jung of “Minari,” meanwhile, earned the supporting female prize. At the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25, all three films are nominated for best picture alongside “Nomadland.” 

Ahmed, winning for his work as a heavy metal musician who loses his hearing, used his acceptance speech to honor those affected by health crises like COVID-19. “Everyone who’s gone through some upheaval this year,” he said, “I wish you peace on the other side of it.”

The John Cassavetes Award, given to a feature made for under $500,000, went to writer-director Merawi Gerima’s “Residue.” Best international film went to “Quo Vadis, Aida?” The Robert Altman Award, presented to a feature film’s director, casting director, and ensemble, went to Regina King, Kimberly R. Hardin, and Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. for “One Night in Miami.”

In the Spirits’ first ever TV categories, the inaugural ensemble TV cast prize went to Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Weruche Opia, and Stephen Wight for Coel’s HBO series “I May Destroy You,” which also earned the new scripted series honor. Shira Haas and Amit Rahav both triumphed in the individual TV acting categories for their work on Netflix’s limited series “Unorthodox.”

The Spirit Awards are voted upon by Film Independent voters; of all this year’s nominated writers and directors, 57% were women and 48% were BIPOC. For a full list of winners and more on Film Independent, visit their official site.

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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