Spike Lee 2013 Recipient

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Director, Producer, Writer, Actor, and Master Teacher Spike Lee to Receive the 20th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

New York, NY [September 18, 2013] – The Gish Prize Trust today announced that director, producer, writer, actor and master teacher Spike Lee has been selected to receive the 20th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, given as a legacy from the legendary film and stage actresses. The Gish Prize Trust is proud to mark this 20th anniversary by honoring one of America’s most courageous and consequential artists and helping to further the vibrant, innovative work he continues to create.

Established in 1994 through the will of the legendary 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 Anna Deavere Smith.

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 serves as Artistic Director of the Graduate Film Program and has endowed the Spike Lee Film Production Fund, which to date has provided completion funds to more than forty students for their thesis films.

The Gish Prize will be presented to Spike Lee on the evening of Wednesday, October 30, 2013 in New York City at a private event at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), attended by leaders of the arts community. MoMA’s Film Department, which had a deep and longstanding relationship with Lillian Gish, helped to launch Spike Lee’s career when it selected his early short feature Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads for the 1983 New Directors/New Films series.

Spike Lee stated, “Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Miss Lillian Gish. Those films were D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. 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.”

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.

Darren Walker stated, “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. 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.”

Rajendra Roy commented, “Lillian Gish looked far beyond herself in her determination to establish film as an art form with both a serious history and a vibrant future. It is only appropriate on the 20th anniversary of the Gish Prize to host the ceremony here at The Museum of Modern Art, where her visionary generosity did so much for the Department of Film, and to mark the occasion by honoring Spike Lee, an artist of immense honesty and authenticity who is a pioneer in his own right.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves as trustee of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust. Speaking for The Philanthropy Centre at JPMorgan Private Bank, Managing Director, Jacqueline E. Elias stated, “In partnership with our esteemed selection committees, we have supported the founding vision of Lillian Gish, who wanted to recognize artists who awe us with their contribution to our ‘enjoyment and understanding of life.’ By choosing Spike Lee to receive the 20th Gish Prize, our selection committee sends a powerful message about the importance of film in our society and the continuing vitality of Spike Lee as a working artist. JPMorgan is thrilled to be associated with such an auspicious endeavor, and we congratulate Spike Lee on receiving this honor.”