Donald Trump loomed large over the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday afternoon, but he did so from a distance (and we don’t mean a Florida golf course). The President’s name was spoken only a small handful of times during the show, but his presence — and that of the national mood he’s created — made itself known throughout.
Most of the explicit references could be found during Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s hilarious opening segment, in which the latter used Trump’s language to contextualize the indies nominated: “These films, are to quote the President: ‘Sad!’ exclamation point.” A few minutes later, he followed that up by setting up Kroll for a joke: “Do you know what Donald Trump thinks Barack Obama’s name is?” He asked. “Barry Jenkins,” Kroll deadpanned. The duo also commented on Trump’s recent decision to rescind protections for transgender Americans, wisecracking that “Transgender students in public schools have had it too good for too long.”
But there was no doubt about the most direct hit, which Mulaney delivered without any set-up: “Hey Trump, you and Robert Durst are both rich sociopaths from New York real estate empires, but somehow Robert Durst is more likable.” Even funnier was Kroll’s dig at Trump advisor and anti-Semite Steve Bannon, a notably ugly human being: “Steve Bannon makes me crazy. The only reason he got that job is because he’s so hot. In this country, if you’re that hot you get anything you want.” And then the finishing move: “He’s so hot, he looks like if Nick Offerman drowned.”
If there weren’t many comments about Trump later in the show, perhaps that’s because Kroll and Mulaney took a moment towards the end of their shtick to remind the nominees that Trump probably wasn’t watching — for as many hours a day as that guy watches television, he somehow doesn’t make time for IFC. Assuring viewers that Hollywood was still as liberal as ever (“We are not in a bubble, we are in a tent filled with fringe artists on a California beach; if this place leaned any further to the left we would topple into the ocean”), the hosts offered their guests some perspective: “It is your right to make a political statement, but keep in mind where we are. In terms of impact, you could either give your speech on camera, or you could whisper it in the bathroom.”
Most of the winners and presenters took that message to heart, with only Best Male Lead recipient Casey Affleck really taking a stab at the people currently squatting in the White House. “My kids only listen to me when I say something on TV,” he explained, “So… The policies of this administration are abhorrent, and they will not last. They’re really un-American.” Affleck then closed his remarks by paraphrasing an article written by activist Marian Wright Edelman (mother of “O.J.: Made in America” director Ezra Edelman), citing her thoughts that “Now is a time to struggle for the future of our nation.”
The “Manchester by the Sea” star was also sporting a blue ACLU ribbon, a form of quiet protest that was more in line with the afternoon’s other, subtler displays of resistance. Presenter Freida Pinto alluded to the hateful Muslim travel ban by noting that all of the nominees for Best International Film made it past customs, while Samuel L. Jackson made it clear that he’s now a Lyft man for life (after Mulaney insinuated that the actor took an Uber to the show, the camera cut to Jackson mouthing the name of that company’s biggest rival). “American Honey” star Sasha Lane could be seen reading a shirt that was emblazoned with the words “Black Lives Matter,” while “Moonlight” producer Adele Romanski simply stated that these are “very strange times.” Indeed they are, but — for one afternoon — Hollywood didn’t feel the need to expound upon that. Everyone in the room, and everyone watching from home, was all on the same page. With the whole world watching, there will probably be a very different vibe at the Academy Awards tomorrow night.
The 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards were hosted Saturday, February 25 by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney in a temporary tent on a beach in Los Angeles. The annual ceremony honors the best in independent film as voted on by members of Film Independent and IFP.