February 10, 2021, NEW YORK -- The Genesis Prize Foundation today announced film director, producer, and philanthropist Steven Spielberg as the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate.
The annual $1 million Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” by TIME magazine, honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values.
The award recognizes Spielberg’s outstanding achievement as one the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema; his social activism and prolific philanthropy; and his principled stance against anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance. The Prize also recognizes his extraordinary work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and prevent future genocides through film, public advocacy and philanthropy.
For the first time in the history of the Genesis Prize, the voice of global Jewry was a major factor in Laureate selection. Two hundred thousand Jews on six continents cast their votes for the 2021 Laureate; millions more engaged on social media. While the Prize Committee had the ultimate discretion about the selection of the recipient of this prestigious award, the fact Spielberg received the most votes was a major determining factor.
“The Genesis Prize celebrates Steven Spielberg’s unique talent, his commitment to making the world a better place, and his unparalleled contribution to teaching the post-war generations about the horrors of the Holocaust,” said Stan Polovets, Co-Founder and Chairman of GPF. “We are delighted to welcome Steven Spielberg to the distinguished family of Genesis Prize honorees, which includes such luminaries as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Natan Sharansky, and Michael Bloomberg.”
This is the latest in a series of prominent awards bestowed on Spielberg, which among others include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States; Legion d’Honneur, the highest order of the French Republic, and Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit.
“Spielberg is a great Jewish visionary and storyteller,” said the legendary human rights activist Natan Sharansky, who was awarded the Genesis Prize in 2020. “Key Jewish themes are often woven into his narratives: importance of identity and belonging, maintaining humanity in a ruthless world, caring for the other, and honoring the moral obligation to do the right thing. His talent makes them universal: told by Spielberg, these stories come alive in people’s hearts across the globe.”
Steven Spielberg becomes the 9th Genesis Prize honoree. All previous Laureates chose to direct the $1 million Prize award to philanthropic causes about which they were passionate. Sharansky, who preceded Spielberg as the Genesis Prize Laureate, directed his $1 million award to support individuals and organizations working to alleviate the Covid-19 health crisis and prevent future pandemics.
“Congratulations to Steven Spielberg on this important Jewish award,” said Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Selection Committee. “He is an example of great Jewish talent, whose extraordinary work in film and philanthropy is infused with the values of his people – a quest for justice, compassion, humanism, and a heartfelt desire to make the world a better place.”
About the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate
Steven Spielberg is widely considered to be the most successful film director in the history of cinema. His films grossed $10bn and his imagination has captivated tens of millions of people around the world. After establishing his reputation with blockbuster films such as Jaws, ET, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, he began to explore serious topics such as justice, slavery, women’s rights, corruption, and morality of war in films such as Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, The Color Purple, The Post, Munich and Bridge of Spies.
His films also have delivered compelling narratives of Jewish history and present day events – the Holocaust, terrorism, and the maturing of the State of Israel. Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece Schindler’s List has had a profound impact on humanity’s perception and awareness of the Holocaust. Fifty years after the Shoah, Spielberg’s film fostered a strong emotional connection with this tragedy for a vast, global audience – touching the post-war generations in a way that no other medium could. Spielberg channeled all of his proceeds from Schindler’s List to fund philanthropic causes – both Jewish and non-Jewish. In 1994, he established the USC Shoah Foundation, dedicated to preserving Holocaust survivor testimonies. Concerned with prevention of genocide, the Foundation also works to preserve the memory of other 20th century genocides – in Cambodia, Armenia and Rwanda. Over 55,000 survivor testimonies have been recorded to-date.
Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw founded the Righteous Persons Foundation, which has made more than $100 million in grants to various Jewish organizations. Through the Wunderkinder Foundation, Spielberg has given extensively to health, arts, youth and education.
About the Genesis Prize and Prior Laureates
The Genesis Prize is a global award that celebrates Jewish achievement and contribution to humanity. Launched in 2013, the Prize is financed through a permanent endowment of $100 million established by The Genesis Prize Foundation.
Previous Genesis Prize laureates are former New York City Mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg (2014); actor, producer and peace activist Michael Douglas (2015); Itzhak Perlman, virtuoso violinist and advocate for individuals with special needs (2016); sculptor and advocate for the rights of refugees Sir Anish Kapoor (2017); Oscar-winning actress and social activist Natalie Portman (2018); owner of New England Patriots and founder of the leading foundation to combat anti-Semitism Robert Kraft (2019); and legendary Jewish leader and human rights activist Natan Sharansky (2020). In 2018, the Genesis Prize Foundation honored U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to social justice and equal rights.
2021 Laureate Background
Born in 1946, Steven Spielberg is the highest-grossing director and producer, who built on his childhood dream to become the most successful filmmaker in the history of cinema.
His films have grossed $10 billion worldwide. Among those with global acclaim are:
- Jaws, Director, (1975)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark, Director, (1981)
- T. the Extra Terrestrial, Director, (1982)
- Saving Private Ryan, Director (1998), Academy Award Winner for Best Director
- Schindler's List, Director, Academy Award Winner for Best Picture and Best Director; #8 on American Film Institute’s 10 Greatest American Films Ever Made, (1993)
- Jurassic Park, Director, (1993)
- Munich, Director, (2005)
- Lincoln, Director (2013)
- War Horse, Director (2011)
- Bridge of Spies, Director (2017)
Academy Awards, won 3, nominated for 13 others
- Best Picture, Schindler’s List, 1994
- Best Director, Schindler’s List, 1994
- Best Director, Saving Private Ryan, 1999
BAFTA Film Awards, 3 won, 13 nominations
- Best Film, Schindler’s List, 1993
- Best Direction, Schindler’s List, 1993
- Best Casual Game, Boom Blox, 2009
Golden Globe Awards, 6 won, 16 nominated
- Best Motion Picture - Drama, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1983
- Best Motion Picture - Drama, Schindler’s List, 1994
- Best Director - Motion Picture, Schindler’s List, 1994
- Best Motion Picture - Drama, Saving Private Ryan, 1999
- Best Director - Motion Picture, Saving Private Ryan, 1999
- Best Motion Picture - Animated, The Adventures of Tintin, 2012
Emmy Awards (Primetime), 4 won, 6 nominated
- Outstanding Animated Program, A Pinky & the Brain Christmas Special, 1996
- Outstanding Limited Series, Band of Brothers, 2002
- Outstanding Limited Series, Taken, 2003
- Outstanding Limited Series, The Pacific, 2010
Spielberg was born in a Jewish home in Ohio and grew up in Arizona and California. Since childhood, he maintained a connection to his Jewish identity, although his sense of belonging flourished fully later in life – following his marriage, and the birth of his children, whom he wanted to raise as Jews.
As a child, Spielberg experienced anti-Semitism, which fostered his lifelong commitment to fighting all forms of intolerance and informed some of his most important professional and personal philanthropic choices: “The only answer to more hate is more humanity”, said Spielberg at a commencement address at Harvard University (2016).
Spielberg is a generous and prolific philanthropist, whose humanitarian work is driven by Jewish values. He has been ranked among top 50 living philanthropists in the United States. Among other initiatives, Spielberg has:
- Founded USC Shoah Foundation with $10 million grant in 1994 to make audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. The Foundation has conducted 55,000 interviews in 32 languages with survivors from 56 countries. Concerned with prevention of crimes against humanity, the Foundation is also working to preserve the memory of other 20th century genocides – in Cambodia, Armenia and Rwanda, reflecting the universal humanitarian impact of Jewish values. The foundation is financed with proceeds from Schindler’s List.
- Founded the Righteous Persons Foundation in 1994 to recover and preserve Jewish stories from the past and build a contemporary Jewish community predicated on meaning, joy and responsibility to help repair our world. The Foundation provides extensive philanthropic support to a wide range of Jewish organizations such as Moishe House, Jews of Color Initiative and the Anti-Defamation League.
- In 2006, the foundation donated $1 million to support families in northern Israel under attack from Hezbollah in 2006.
- Co-founded Starlight Children’s Foundation to help improve the quality of life for children with life-threatening conditions.
- Donated $30 million to the Motion Picture and Television Fund to provide healthcare and assistance to older people who worked in film and television.
- Through the Wunderkinder Foundation, supported American Heart Association, Children's Diabetes Foundation, Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, and the UCLA Foundation towards medical research.
- In the realm of arts, Wunderkinder Foundation supported American Film Institute, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, Children's Defense Fund, and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
- Financed construction of a 13,000 sq. ft microbiology lab at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and pediatric programs at the hospital; a wing of this major hospital is named after Spielberg.
- Donated $750,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief; $500,000 to March for our Lives, a gun control initiative; $500,000 to support COVID-19 relief in the Los Angeles area.
Recognized with the highest national awards by the United States, France and Germany:
- Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the United States, awarded by President Obama in 2015
- France’s Legion d’Honneur – highest state award, bestowed by President Chirac, 2004
- Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) – highest national award, bestowed by President Herzog, 1998
Queen Elizabeth II appointed Steven Spielberg as an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 2001.
In 2013, he received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction from Shimon Peres for his work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.