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 says Lee was chosen "for his brilliance and unwavering courage in using film to challenge conventional thinking."
In an interview Wednesday, Lee said he was familiar with Lillian Gish as an actress, but he hadn't heard of the award until he was called "out of the blue."
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. The prize named for the silent film stars is one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts.