Ava DuVernay Selected to Receive the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Ava DuVernay - Publicity - H 2020
Adam Burrell

With the honor, DuVernay becomes the fourth filmmaker and first female director to receive the Gish honor, which comes with a $250,000 cash prize.

Ava DuVernay has been selected to receive the 27th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in honor of her ongoing efforts to amplify the voices of women and people of color through her film and TV work. 

DuVernay becomes the fourth filmmaker — after Ingmar Bergman, Robert Redford and Spike Lee — and first female director to receive the honor. It comes with a cash prize of $250,000, one of the largest awards of its kind. The prize was established in 1994 through the will of actress Lillian Gish, who died Feb. 27, 1993, following a groundbreaking career on stage and screen that spanned seven decades.

Per today's announcement, the Gish Prize is awarded "to a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change, and paved the way for the next generation." The selection committee chose DuVernay from nearly 60 finalists in visual and performing arts, literature and arts administration. Other previous honorees include Walter Hood, Gustavo Dudamel, Elizabeth LeCompte, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Anna Deavere Smith, Trisha Brown and Chinua Achebe.

In response to the news, DuVernay said, "When I was notified about the lovely prize, I asked to read Ms. Gish's actual words regarding this gift as drafted in her will. She said the prize was to go to an artist who contributes to our understanding of ‘the beauty of life.’ What a notion. With her description, my own view of what I do has shifted slightly more toward embracing the beauty around me and welcoming it at every turn. This is one of those moments, and I am grateful."

This year’s selection committee was chaired by Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, and included Patricia Cruz, executive director of Harlem Stage; Joseph V. Melillo, executive producer emeritus at BAM; Meredith Monk, winner of the 2017 Gish Prize; and Zeyba Rahman, senior program officer of the Building Bridges Program of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Alberta Arthurs serves as advisor; and JPMorgan Private Bank handles the trust.

Said Bennett: "Ava DuVernay is an extraordinary filmmaker whose body of work as a writer, producer, director, distributor, and mentor perfectly embodies the outstanding achievements that the Gish Prize celebrates. As a committee, we went into the selection process thinking that we had been given an impossible task. Reflecting back, however, our choice was inevitable: Ms. DuVernay was exactly the artist to honor. We are as grateful for all she has already given the world, as we are excited by all she has yet to do.”

Winner of BAFTA, Peabody, and Emmy awards and founder of the creative collective and distribution operation Array, DuVernay 's credits include Selma, the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th, A Wrinkle in Time, When They See Us and Queen Sugar