Oscar Artists: DuVernay, Ava–Oscar Nominee (13th Docu) Receives 2020 Gish Award

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

DuVernay becomes the fourth filmmaker, and first female director, after Ingmar Bergman, Robert Redford and Spike Lee to receive the esteemed prize. 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 February 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.

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.