2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

With four prizes, including Best Feature, the Searchlight Pictures drama “Nomadland” was the top winner at the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards, which was hosted by actress Melissa Villaseñor. For the first time, the Spirit Awards show was not held the day before the Academy Awards. Instead, the Spirit Awards ceremony took place on April 22, with a live telecast at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on IFC and AMC+. The 2021 Academy Awards will take place on April 25. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both ceremonies are mostly virtual.

The other Spirit Awards for “Nomadland” were Best Director and Best Editing (both for Chloé Zhao) and Best Cinematography (for Joshua James Richards). Amazon Studios’ drama “Sound of Metal” (about a heavy-metal drummer who goes deaf) received three Spirit Awards: Best First Feature (for director Darius Marder and four producers), Best Male Lead (for Riz Ahmed) and Best Supporting Male (for Paul Raci). Focus Features’ #MeToo revenge film “Promising Young Woman” won the awards for Best Female Lead (for Carey Mulligan) and Best Screenplay (for Emerald Fennell).

The 2021 Spirit Awards also included the debut of television categories for the ceremony. The HBO limited drama series “I May Destroy You” and the Netflix limited drama series “Unorthodox” won two prizes each. “I May Destroy You” got the awards for Best New Scripted Series and Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series, which is a non-competitive category. “Unorthodox” garnered awards for Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Shira Haas) and Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Amit Rahav).

With seven nods, the Focus Features abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was the top nominee of there ceremony but the movie ended up not winning any of the awards.

Eligible movies were those released in 2020 that had a production budget of no more than $22.5 million. Therefore, several critically acclaimed 2020 movies with budgets higher than $22.5 million were not eligible, including the Netflix films “Da 5 Bloods,””Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

As for what defines an “independent” TV show for the Spirit Awards, Film Independent president John Welsh told Variety in a September 2020 interview that it would depend on a TV show’s “aesthetic, original provocative subject matter, unique voice and diversity. The types of work that we celebrate on the film side, and TV side, they’re going to look very similar. … Somehow these singular voices are finding their way into television and making a mark on the culture. We are remiss if we don’t celebrate that.”

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards:


BEST FEATURE (Award given to the producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

First Cow

Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Producers: Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf


Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

 Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Producers: Sara Murphy, Adele Romanski


Producers: Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to director and producer)

I Carry You With Me

Director/Producer: Heidi Ewing

Producers: Edher Campos, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Maire

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Director/Producer: Radha Blank

Producers: Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jordan Fudge, Rishi Rajani, Jennifer Semler, Lena Waithe

Miss Juneteenth

Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples

Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Steele Page, Neil Creque Williams

Nine Days

Director: Edson Oda

Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Linder, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner

Sound of Metal*

Director: Darius Marder

Producers: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Award given to the writer, director and producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

The Killing of Two Lovers

Writer/Director/Producer: Robert Machoian

Producers: Scott Christopherson, Clayne Crawford

La Leyenda Negra

Writer/Director: Patricia Vidal Delgado

Producers: Alicia Herder, Marcel Perez

Lingua Franca

Writer/Director/Producer: Isabel Sandoval

Producers: Darlene Catly Malimas, Jhett Tolentino, Carlo Velayo


Writer/Director: Merawi Gerima

Saint Frances

Director/Producer: Alex Thompson

Writer: Kelly O’Sullivan

Producers: James Choi, Pierce Cravens, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Raphael Nash, Roger Welp


Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Kelly ReichardtFirst Cow

Chloé ZhaoNomadland*


Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman*

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Mike MakowskyBad Education

Alice WuThe Half of It


Kitty GreenThe Assistant

Noah HuttonLapsis

Channing Godfrey PeoplesMiss Juneteenth

Andy SiaraPalm Springs*

James SweeneyStraight Up


Jay KeitelShe Dies Tomorrow

Shabier KirchnerBull

Michael LathamThe Assistant

Hélène LouvartNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Joshua James RichardsNomadland*


Andy CannyThe Invisible Man

Scott CummingsNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Merawi GerimaResidue

Enat SidiI Carry You With Me

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland*


Nicole BeharieMiss Juneteenth

Viola DavisMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney FlaniganNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Julia GarnerThe Assistant

Frances McDormandNomadland

Carey MulliganPromising Young Woman*


Riz AhmedSound of Metal*

Chadwick BosemanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Adarsh GouravThe White Tiger

Rob MorganBull

Steven YeunMinari


Alexis ChikaezeMiss Juneteenth

Yeri HanMinari

Valerie MahaffeyFrench Exit

Talia RyderNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Yuh-jung YounMinari*


Colman DomingoMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Orion LeeFirst Cow

Paul RaciSound of Metal*

Glynn TurmanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Benedict WongNine Days

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast

One Night in Miami…

Director: Regina King

Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin

Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

BEST DOCUMENTARY(Award given to the director and producer)


Director/Producer: Alexander Nanau

Producers: Hanka Kastelicová, Bernard Michaux, Bianca Oana

Crip Camp*

Directors/Producers: Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham

Producer: Sara Bolder

Dick Johnson is Dead

Director/Producer: Kirsten Johnson

Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness

The Mole Agent

Director: Maite Alberdi

Producer: Marcela Santibáñez


Director/Producer: Garrett Bradley

Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)



Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

The Disciple


Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Night of the Kings

Ivory Coast

Director: Philippe Lacôte

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time


Director: Lili Horvát

Quo Vadis, Aida?*

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

PRODUCERS AWARD – The Producers Award, now in its 24th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.

Kara Durrett

Lucas Joaquin

Gerry Kim*

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 27th year,  recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.

David Midell

Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Ekwa Msangi*

Director of Farewell Amor

Annie Silverstein

Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 26th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.

Cecilia Aldarondo

Director of Landfall

Elegance Bratton

Director of Pier Kids*

Elizabeth Lo

Director of Stray


BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children

Executive Producers: Jeff Dupre, Joshua Bennett, Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius

City So Real

Produced by: Zak Piper, Steve James

Executive Producers: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Jolene Pinder

Immigration Nation*

Executive Producers: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Brandon Hill, Christian Thompson

Co-Executive Producers: Andrey Alistratov, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, Lauren Haber

Love Fraud

Executive Producers: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Amy Goodman Kass, Vinnie Malhotra, Jihan Robinson, Michael Bloom, Maria Zuckerman

We’re Here

Creators/Executive Producers: Stephen Warren, Johnnie Ingram

Executive Producers: Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Peter LoGreco

Co-Executive Producers: Erin Haglund, Sabrina Mar

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

I May Destroy You*

Creator/Executive Producer: Michaela Coel

Executive Producers: Phil Clarke, Roberto Troni

Little America

Executive Producers: Lee Eisenberg, Joshuah Bearman, Joshua Davis, Arthur Spector, Alan Yang, Siân Heder, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon

Small Axe

Executive Producers: Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Steve McQueen

A Teacher

Creator/Executive Producer: Hanna Fidell

Executive Producers: Michael Costigan, Kate Mara, Louise Shore, Jason Bateman, Danny Brocklehurst

Co-Executive Producer: Daniel Pipski


Creator/Executive Producer: Anna Winger

Creator: Alexa Karolinski

Executive Producer: Henning Kamm


Elle FanningThe Great

Shira HaasUnorthodox*

Abby McEnanyWork in Progress

Maitreyi RamakrishnanNever Have I Ever

Jordan Kristine SeamónWe Are Who We Are


ConphidanceLittle America

Adam AliLittle America

Nicco AnnanP-Valley

Amit RahavUnorthodox*

Harold TorresZero, Zero, Zero


I May Destroy You

Ensemble Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia, Stephen Wight

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