Spike Lee, Artistic Director of the Graduate Film Program at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and renowned director, producer, actor, and teacher, was presented with the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize at a private ceremony on October 30 at The Museum of Modern Art.
Established in 1994 through the will of the legendary film and stage actress Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious honors given to artists in the United States and bears one of the largest cash awards, currently valued at approximately $300,000. Over the past two decades, the Gish Prize Trust has honored Lillian Gish's achievements as the First Lady of American Cinema by recognizing outstanding artists who have pushed the boundaries of their art forms, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation. Spike Lee joins a roster of past honorees that includes Frank Gehry, Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller, Shirin Neshat, Ornette Coleman, Trisha Brown, and NYU professor and actor Anna Deavere Smith, who was the Gish Prize’s 19th honoree.
"Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Miss Lillian Gish - D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter,” said Lee. “Isn't it funny (sometimes) how life works? And how ironic life can be? God can be a trickster. Peace and love to the Gish Sisters, the Gish Prize Trust, and the Philanthropy Centre at JP Morgan Private Bank."
Spike Lee helped define America's new independent cinema with his first full-length feature, She's Gotta Have It (1986). In 1989, with Do the Right Thing, he became the first African American to move decisively into the front rank of the film industry, while breaking new ground in his portrayal of the black community and creating a work that has since become a lasting testament to its time and place. Over a career that now spans three decades, he has gone on to make more than thirty films in every genre, including intimate family dramas, crime thrillers, historical epics, satires, musicals, and documentaries, and has introduced actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, and Halle Berry to the screen. He also has devoted more than 15 years to teaching and mentoring students at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he has endowed the Spike Lee Film Production Fund, which to date has provided completion funds to more than forty students for their thesis films.
“Having known Spike for more than 20 years, I can’t think of anybody who is a more appropriate representation of the spirit of the Gish award,” said Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts. “Through his work, through his example, through the communities he’s created and the students he has mentored and supported, Spike has helped give a voice to a whole generation of artists. As a result, Spike’s positive and profound influence on the arts has been exponential.”
The Gish Prize selection committee chose Spike Lee from among a group of 30 distinguished finalists in all fields of the arts, who had been nominated by members of the arts community. The selection committee for 2013 was committee chair Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation; Fairfax Dorn, Executive Director of Ballroom Marfa; David Henry Hwang, playwright; Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art; and Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of the Park Avenue Armory.
"Because this is the 20th year of the Prize, the selection committee felt a particular commitment to affirming the legacy of Lillian Gish as both a great artist and in her later years a stalwart for a more just and inclusive society,” said Darren Walker. “We honor Spike Lee for his brilliance and unwavering courage in using film to challenge conventional thinking, and for the passion for justice that he feels deep in his soul."
For more information about the Gish Prize, visit www.gishprize.com.