The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the most generous arts honors in the United States, has been awarded to the filmmaker and activist Ava DuVernay, who has worked to amplify the voices of women and people of color in Hollywood.
The Gish Prize Trust announced on Thursday that Ms. DuVernay has been selected as the recipient of the 27th edition of the honor, which currently carries a cash award of about $250,000 and is awarded to an artist who “has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation.” Ms. DuVernay, one of four filmmakers to have won the award since its establishment in 1994, is the first female film director to receive the honor.
In her will, the actress Lillian Gish, who died in 1993, dictated that the award should be given to an artist who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
In a phone interview, Ms. DuVernay said that she felt connected to those words. “For me when I think about Black people, when I think about the work that I do, I am celebrating the beauty of survival, the beauty of triumph over adversity,” she added.
This year, the selection committee, led by Jamie Bennett, the executive director of ArtPlace America, chose Ms. DuVernay out of about 60 finalists from various artistic disciplines. In a phone interview, Mr. Bennett described Ms. DuVernay’s 2016 documentary “13th” as not merely an impactful film, but a catalyst for change.
“It was really the entire suite of her as an extraordinary filmmaker, what she’s doing, and then also the way that she’s trying to make sure that others get a chance to do things with her,” Mr. Bennett said of the committee’s decision.
Ms. DuVernay is known for film (“Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time”), television (“Queen Sugar”) and Netflix (“When They See Us”). But she’s also championed inclusivity in Hollywood through her Los Angeles entertainment internship initiative and by founding the media collective Array.