Chinese-American film The Farewell delivered a rebuke to its Oscars snub at the Spirit Awards on Saturday, as South Korea’s Parasite added a final burst of momentum to its much-hyped Academy Award challenge.
The awards, held on a beach outside Los Angeles a day before the Oscars, honour films with smaller budgets, and are often held up as an antidote to the Academy’s more mainstream – and less diverse – tastes.
The Farewell, about a family which reunites to visit a grandmother in China who doesn’t know she’s dying, won best picture, having missed out on any Oscars nominations.
Lulu Wang, the film’s director, said “so many people said nobody is going to want to see the film [because] it’s not Chinese enough, it’s not American enough”.
“For people to just see it as a family story, as a universal story, that’s really meaningful.”
Wang was one of several acclaimed female directors who failed to win Oscars recognition, but said she was not surprised by her omission.
“When you win an award it is given to you by a group of your peers. When I look at the Academy, and the makeup of the voting body of the Academy, they are not my peers,” she said.
“That is the biggest problem. If my peers were represented in the Academy voting body then they would be voting for films that represent their lives and their stories.
“That’s always how it is. So I’m not surprised by any of it.”
Academy membership is 84 per cent white and 68 per cent male.
In the Spirit Awards’s biggest shock, Jennifer Lopez missed out on best supporting actress for her turn as a wily stripper in Hustlers to Zhao Shuzhen, who plays the grandmother in “The Farewell”.
Zhao was unable to travel from China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak gripping the country.
Meanwhile Parasite, a rare crossover foreign language success, won best international film.
Director Bong Joon-ho said subtitles were no barrier for his dark comedy because its message about widening class inequality would resonate with “people living on Mars”.
“I didn’t create this film to make a grand contribution to international cinema,” said Bong.
“The deeper you delve into what surrounds you, what is near you, the more universal and broader the story can become,” he told journalists backstage.
Brothers Josh and Benny Safdie won best director for their frenetic, anxiety-ridden thriller Uncut Gems, about a compulsive New York jeweler whose gambling addiction lands him in ever-deepening trouble.
The film’s star and audience favorite Adam Sandler won best actor, poking fun at his “quote unquote snub” at the Oscars, saying: “Let all those feather-haired douchebag . . . [actors] get their Oscars tomorrow night.”
Olivia Wilde, whose female-focused teen comedy Booksmart won best first feature, said she hoped the win could “inspire more ladies to get out there and direct”.
“The Film Independent Spirit Awards is so much cooler than the Oscars – it’s the daytime, we’re on the beach, we recognize female directors,” joked host Aubrey Plaza as the show opened in Santa Monica.
Noah Baumbach won best screenplay for divorce tearjerker Marriage Story, which was also in the race for best picture at the Oscars – as was his partner Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.
“Even though she made a movie too expensive for the Spirit Awards, she’s no less independent than anyone here,” Baumbach said.
Renee Zellweger further cemented her Oscar frontrunner status by winning best actress for Judy.
Best documentary went to American Factory, the first film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, about a US rust belt factory reopened by a Chinese billionaire.
“Even though it’s sort of sponsored by the Obamas, a lot of Republicans and people living in rural areas are watching it in the privacy of their homes,” director Julia Reichert said, citing Netflix data.
“They might not tell their friends. But it’s really happening. So that’s really cool. We’ve got to get to those people because we’re in an election year.”