Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ava DuVernay Honored at Gordon Parks Foundation Awards

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Gordon Parks Foundation
Journalist Jelani Cobb (left) and honoree Ta-Nehisi Coates

At the ceremony, presenter Spike Lee spoke of photographer Gordon Parks' impact and 2018 being a year of "living dangerously.”

On a rainy Tuesday night, artists, stars and film and music industry insiders gathered at New York's Cipriani 42nd Street for the annual Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction, celebrating the arts and humanitarianism.

This year, the honorees included filmmaker Ava DuVernay, businessman Ronald O. Perelman, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, photographer Sally Mann and documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz.

The night was focused on the future and the changes that art can fuel. Co-chairs included artists and art advocates Alicia Keys, Kasseem Dean, Kendrick Lamar, Karl Lagerfeld, Usher and Judy and Leonard Lauder.

“For me, I just know that art is what keeps me sane," Coates told The Hollywood Reporter. "I need to read things, I need to watch things, and I need to hear things. You know, just to help process and understand.”

Fellow honoree Ifill told THR that Parks has always been an idol and the ceremony in the legendary photographer's name is “one of the best nights in New York.” 

"I think there’s a tremendous relationship between the moment that we’re in, in civil rights and art. We say all the time as civil rights activists, ‘We need art right now.’ We need art to inspire us, we need art to educate, we need art for catharsis, we need art to reveal what is really happening in our society,” she added. 

Spike Lee was in attendance after just having won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for his new film BlacKkKlansman. During the ceremony, the director started off his speech with a shout-out to his hometown, Brooklyn, before introducing his longtime friend, Perelman.

Lee also discussed the impact that Parks had on him, especially when he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker.

“It’s the year of living dangerously,” he added, given the current political climate,

When Perelman took to the stage, he spoke about the changes needed in the world and how the arts can pave a road toward them. “I began to understand the magic that Parks had with that lens, like nobody I’ve ever seen before, and have it impact socially like no other artist I’ve seen before,” he said. “It’s not going to change, unless we make it change.”

Added Mann, “I am grateful to Gordon Parks for all of the lessons he has given us and am deeply honored by this award," while Shabazz spoke about the changes needed in society today. “We have to get on board right now, like never before. This camera has become my choice for that,” he said.

DuVernay was the only honoree not in attendance; she accepted her award via video from the set of her upcoming film The New Gods.

Guests enjoyed a spread that included sliced prosciutto de parma with roasted pear and fresh buffalo mozzarella; Chilean sea bass with asparagus; and chocolate mousse cake. Alicia Key's husband Dean, aka Swizz Beatz, kept the music playing throughout the star-studded evening. The gala ended with a performance by R&B legend Mavis Staples.