NEW YORK (AP) — Spike Lee will receive the 20th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, which carries a reward of $300,000.

The Gish Prize Trust announced the selection Wednesday. Selection committee chairman Darren Walker said Lee was chosen “for his brilliance and unwavering courage in using film to challenge conventional thinking.”

Lee said in an interview that was he was well acquainted with Lillian Gish as the actress of “The Birth of a Nation” and “The Night of the Hunter,” but he was unfamiliar with the prize that was established in Gish’s will. She requested that the prize, one of the largest and most prestigious in the arts, be given every year to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”

“I hadn’t even heard of it,” Lee said in an interview. “It was a phone call that came completely out of the blue.”

“It was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever had,” the director added.

The prize will be presented to Lee at the Museum of Modern Art on Oct. 30. Past honorees include Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller and Frank Gehry.

Lee’s films range from the racially charged 1989 Brooklyn drama “Do the Right Thing” to the 1992 biopic “Malcolm X” to the post-Katrina New Orleans documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” This November, Lee will release “Oldboy,” a remake of the Park Chan-wook South Korean thriller.

“I wanted to build a body of work, to hone my craft and get better as a storyteller,” Lee said. “All my favorite filmmakers are storytellers.”

In July, Lee launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his next movie, which he vaguely promised would be about “the addiction of blood.” The crowd-sourcing campaign succeeded in raising $1.4 million.

The $300,000 of the Gish Prize is a huge boon to any independent filmmaker. Recipients are free to use the money however they like.

What will Lee use it for?

“What I do with it is nobody’s business,” said Lee. “I will do what I want. You’re not the IRS or somebody else. This is something I did not ask for, even know about, and thank God I got it.

“I will promise you this: I will make good use of it.”


Jake Coyle

AP Entertainment Writer