These are just a few of the numerous honors Zhao has received during this extended awards season, which included the TIFF Ebert Director Award last September. Two of the film’s fellow Best Picture nominees at the 2021 Oscars also took home multiple awards: Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal” won Best Actor (Riz Ahmed) and Best First Feature. Paul Raci also won Best Supporting Actor for “Sound of Metal,” and communicated his thanks with a combination of speech and American Sign Language. Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” took home trophies for Best Actress (Carey Mulligan) and Best Screenplay. All nominated films had budgets under $22.5 million.
Mulligan’s win suggests she may be the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar, which up till now has been the hardest race to predict, with Andra Day winning the Golden Globe for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday“; Viola Davis winning the SAG Award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom“; and Frances McDormand winning the BAFTA for “Nomadland” in the same category. Also cementing her frontrunner status is Yuh-Jung Youn, who received the Best Supporting Actress Spirit Award for her scene-stealing role in Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari.”
Chung was the only man nominated in the Best Director category, where he, Zhao and Fennell were joined by fellow nominees Eliza Hittman (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”) and Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow“). Another acclaimed female filmmaker, Regina King, received the Robert Altman Award for her directorial debut, “One Night in Miami…” along with her casting director Kimberly Hardin and cast members Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge and Eli Goree.
For the first time, television shows were eligible in five Spirit Awards categories, which enabled Michaela Coel’s hugely praised HBO show, “I May Destroy You,” to win Best New Scripted Series and Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series. Maria Schrader’s Netflix series “Unorthodox” also won two awards for its stars Shira Haas and Amit Rahav.