Aubrey Plaza, waltzing across the stage in a black and white sparkly gown, sums up the difference between the Oscars and the Film Independent Spirit Awards: “The Film Independent Spirit Awards is so much cooler than the Oscars, you know, it’s the daytime, we’re on the beach, we recognize female directors...”
In the midst of award season, the Film Independent Spirit Awards may seem to blend into the background of the lesser award shows that take a back seat to the Oscars and The Golden Globes. But, the Spirit Awards’ unique goal is what makes them stand out in comparison to larger ceremonies. Film Independent’s goal—according to their website—is to, “champion creative independence in visual storytelling and support a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation, and uniqueness of vision.”
Among the winners for the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards, some similarities with the Oscars were apparent. In both shows, Renée Zellweger won Best Actress/Female Lead for Judy, and Parasite won Best International Film. However, the big winner of the night was The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, which won for Best Feature. This is notable considering the film was snubbed by the Academy Awards by not receiving a single nomination.
Wang, BC ‘05, is a champion for any creative that has ever doubted their ability to succeed. In her acceptance speech, she references her first film that, “went nowhere,” and nearly brought her to quit the film industry. However, upon giving herself another chance, she created The Farewell. To fellow filmmakers, she advised, “You can absolutely do it.”
In her speech, she specifically advocated for female filmmakers. She explained that there is no shortage of women who are interested in the film industry. She said, “there are lots of women making films and who want to make films,” and called on those attending the ceremony to, “just give [women] the freaking job. Give them the money.”
Wang based the premise of her film on “an actual lie.” Like the family in the film, Wang’s family concealed the results of her Nai-Nai’s (grandmother’s) terminal cancer diagnosis. Wang told Boston College Magazine last year, “It’s a family affair...They’ve made me complicit in the lie and I’ve made them complicit in the movie. We’re all inextricably linked.”
The Farewell’s success is even more powerful considering the steps Wang took to preserve the authenticity of her story. Most of the film is in Chinese and the entire cast is either Asian or Asian-American. Wang wanted to give Asians, Asian-Americans, and specifically Chinese-Americans, “a different side of what an American looks like, what an American family can look like, [and] what an American leading woman looks like.”
Due to high production costs coupled with high risk for profit and success, the film industry has always found justification for giving white characters and male filmmakers the spotlight. Studios play it safe and fail to take chances on women and people of color, privileging mainstream narratives. But, as mentioned by Fortune, the triumph of films like Moonlight, Parasite, and The Farewell are proving that the success factor is actually the universality of the story, one that the audience can feel is, “about all of us.”
The complex dynamic of Wang’s family’s situation and her identity as a Chinese-American woman have come together to influence the wonderful film she has created. Her achievements inspire filmmakers to pursue their art and push themselves to carve out a place for their perspectives in an industry that desperately needs underrepresented American stories. Her success, along with Barry Jenkins and Bong Joon-Ho’s, proves that the film industry is on its way to lifting up stories that truly unite us.