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 oceanside 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 ("Saturday Night Live") and comedian Kumail Najiani hosted the ceremony, which was broadcast live on IFC. In their opening remarks, Najiani 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. And the documentary front-runner, the Indonesian genocide film "Look of Silence" won best documentary.
Without the competition of "The Revenant" or "The Big Short," the wins for "Spotlight" likely don't suggest any better fortunes for the film at the Oscars. But McCarthy took the opportunity to celebrate the film's distinction as an independent film, made by indie distributor Open Road.
"Quite honestly, we need studios like this who are going to step up when the other studios won't," said McCarthy, who also shared in best screenplay with his cowriter, Josh Singer.
The Spirits, irreverent and breezy, marked a territory of its own, apart from the Oscars. Director Marielle Heller, who won best first feature for "Diary of a Teenage Girl," sounded aware that her film's success meant new attention, from bigger productions, for the movie's breakout star, Bel Powley. But Heller marked her claim on Powley. "I call dibs," she said.
AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report.