By Piya Sinha-Roy
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (Reuters) - The journalism drama "Spotlight" led the winners at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards with four accolades, including the night's top prize for best feature, at an event where diversity was front and center as black and transgender actors won key awards.
"Spotlight," about the Boson Globe's probe into Catholic church child abuse and which is the Oscar best picture front-runner, also won Spirit Awards for best director, best screenplay and best editing.
The Spirit Awards honor independent films made within a $20 million budget and often recognize films that go on to win Oscars the next day, such as dark comedy "Birdman" last year.
"It's rare to make a film that impacts the world as significantly as this one has," "Spotlight" producer Michael Sugar said on stage. "By honoring it, you're making more people aware of it, and as more people are aware of it, more can be spared from a life of abuse."
The Netflix film "Beasts of No Nation," about child soldiers in West Africa and starring a cast of black actors, took two awards, with teen newcomer Abraham Attah winning best actor and Britain's Idris Elba winning best supporting actor.
Attah, who beat out contenders including Jason Segel and Ben Mendelsohn, thanked everyone involved in the production of the film, from Elba and director Cary Fukunaga to the costume designers.
"Tangerine" star Mya Taylor was named best supporting actress, becoming the first transgender artist to win a Spirit Award.
"There is transgender talent, there's very beautiful transgender talent," Taylor told the audience. "You better get out there and put them in your next movie."
The annual Spirit Awards, held over lunch in a tent on Southern California's Santa Monica beach the day before Hollywood's glamorous Oscars ceremony, offers a laidback setting for nominees and guests to let their hair down.
"Room" star Brie Larson won the best actress Spirit award, and is the front-runner to win the best actress Oscar.
The spotlight on diversity at the Spirit Awards comes amid a furor in Hollywood over the 20 all-white acting nominees for this year's Oscars, fueling the #OscarsSoWhite debate.
Spirit Award host Kumail Nanjiani, who is Pakistani-American, introduced himself and his co-host, openly gay comedian Kate McKinnon, as "a gay woman and a Pakistani man. Or as Hollywood thinks of us, a straight woman and her IT guy."
Lesbian romance period drama "Carol" led the nominees on Saturday with six nods, but came away with only the best cinematography award.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Leslie Adler)