2011 Spirit Award Winners

The 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards Ceremony took place on Saturday night–the night before the Academy Awards–and aired on IFC. (Which I didn’t watch, because I don’t get IFC.)
In terms of who and which films were nominated, there was a good bit of crossover this year for indie films: four of the five Best Feature nominees were also Best Picture Oscar nominees (Greenberg didn’t make the cut); five of the six women nominated for Best Lead also received Oscar nods; and the Best Foreign Film award went to the Best Picture award winner–The King’s Speech.
But there are some very important differences, some of which we highlighted in our post about the Spirit Nominees. Namely–you guessed it–how much better women fare in the indie world. Here is a selection of winners, and some thoughts about each. You can see a list of all nominees and winners here.
Best Feature: Black Swan
There is nothing near a consensus on how to read this film. Some find it a feminist statement about the unbearable pressures put on women in modern society, while some find it a misogynist exploration of madness and exploitation of the female body. Nevertheless, it is a female-centered film.
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
Although a man won, there were two women (Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right and Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone) in contention, and the winner directed a woman-centered film. 
Best Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right
This was a great category for women. In addition to Cholodenko, Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini were nominated for Winter’s Bone, and Nicole Holofcener was nominated for Please Give.
Best First Screenplay: Lena Dunham for Tiny Furniture
The best “first” categories are important, in that they give exposure to mostly little-known films (in terms of the mainstream audience) and help launch new voices into the world of filmmaking. The other female nominee in the category is Diane Bell, for Obselidia.
Best First Feature: Get Low

In addition to promoting new filmmakers, this category is exciting because it often introduces films many of us haven’t seen, or haven’t heard much about, including Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us and Dunham’s Tiny Furniture.

Best Female Lead: Natalie Portman for Black Swan
The winner here is no surprise; Portman swept the awards for her portrayal of determined ballerina Nina, which, regardless of how you feel about the film, was an amazing performance. The other nominees were Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Williams.

Best Supporting Female: Dale Dickey for Winter’s Bone
This is another exciting Spirit category, as was the corresponding Oscar category (for different reasons), though there was no overlap between nominees. Other nominees were Ashely Bell for The Last Exorcism, Allison Janney for Life During Wartime, Daphne Rubin-Vega for Jack Goes Boating, and Naomi Watts for Mother and Child.

While the Spirit Award nominees represent a slightly more progressive and inclusive range of stories and people who tell them, they also reveal a continuing problem: the lack of films about, centering on, made by, or starring people of color. As far as I can tell (as I haven’t seen all the films, nor do I know each storyline), Hamilton’s Night Catches Us is the only nominee focusing on the experience of people of color, specifically Black Americans.

The Spirit Awards may be better than the Oscars, but we still have a long way to go.