Smith was a journeyman actor and teacher before striking success with her one-woman production "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, part of a series overall titled "On the Road: The Search for American Char...
The former West Wing star, 62, has been handed $300,000 (£188,000) for "opening eyes, ears and minds" with her theatre projects about Rodney King, the face of the Los Angeles Riots, and healthcare.
Smith says, "I am deeply honoured. I can't imagine a greater honour than having my name linked with the incomparable Dorothy and Lillian Gish."
The annual cash prize is given to a person who has made "an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life".
Previous recipients have included Bob Dylan and Robert Redford.
Smith played Dr. Nancy McNally in The West Wing; she has also appeared in TV show Nurse Jackie, and her film credits include RENT, Philadelphia and The American President.
The second annual Tribeca Film Festival has announced its slate of special events, screenings and guests to mark the 25th anniversary of the Black Filmmaker Foundation, Variety reports.
Guests expected to attend the event include Harry Belafonte, Mos Def, and Chris Rock.
The festival will screen 10 of the most influential black films of the last 25 years, including She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Boyz N the Hood, Boomerang, House Party and Eve's Bayou. The president and one of the founders of BFF, Warrington Hudlin, compiled the films.
Eve's Bayou director Kasi Lemmons is scheduled to speak on a May 7 panel about the role and representation of black women in film, moderated by actresses Ruby Dee, Alfre Woodard and Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing).
Filmmaker Robert Townsend, who produced, directed, wrote and starred in the 1987 comedy about the labors of an aspiring minority actor, Hollywood Shuffle, will host a cocktail party with guests and speakers to include Belafonte, Rock, Melvin Van Peebles, Michael Eric Dyson, Reginald Hudlin, Mos Def and Ben Vereen.
"The Tribeca Film Festival founders' love of New York City and concern for the welfare of all New Yorkers gave birth to this festival and this is reflected in their ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity," Warrington Hudlin told Variety.
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan. Last year's inaugural festival was attended by more than 150,000 people, generated more than $10.4 million in revenues for local Tribeca merchants, and featured several up-and-coming filmmakers.
The festival runs May 3-11.
Was an assistant professor of theater at Carnegie-Mellon University
Reworked the stage play of "House Arrest" for the Los Angeles stage
Cast in "The Human Stain," opposite Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman
Taught acting at New York University
Co-starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, "Rent"
Played Deputy National Security Advisor in Peter Berg's "The Kingdom"
Made her stage debut in "Horatio"
Once again was the solo performer of multiple characters in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"; first opened in LA and later moved to NY; nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Actress and Best Play
Made TV debut on the ABC daytime soap, "All My Children"
Starred in film version of "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"; presented in a special screening at the Sundance Film Festival
First play produced, "On the Road"
Moved to Los Angeles
Headlined her solo show "Let Me Down Easy" at off-Broadway's Second Stage
Played the president's press secretary in Rob Reiner's "The American President"; scripted by Aaron Sorkin
Co-starred in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married"
Cast as hospital administrator Mrs. Akalitus in Showtime's dark comedy, "Nurse Jackie"
First produced stage play with a cast of actors, "House Arrest: First Edition"
Feature film debut, "Soup for One"
Appeared in Jonathan Demme's film about AIDS and homosexuality, "Philadelphia"
Had a recurring role on the NBC White House drama, "The West Wing"; created by Aaron Sorkin
Breakthrough role as the solo performer playing multiple and diverse characters in "Fires in the Mirror"; also wrote play
Was a professor in the drama department at Stanford University
Had a recurring role as District Attorney Kate Brunner on "The Practice" (ABC)
Smith was a journeyman actor and teacher before striking success with her one-woman production "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, part of a series overall titled "On the Road: The Search for American Character". Drawn from personal interviews, the play explored the racial tensions that resulted from two events in a small Brooklyn community: a Black child was killed by a car driven by a Hassid; a Jewish scholar was stabbed to death reportedly in retaliation. Smith delineated portrayals of 19 individuals whose lives were touched in some way by the events. What emerged was a powerful meditation that posed questions about how people (and by extension the audience) integrate perceptions of specific events into the general context of their own lives. Smith was commissioned to create a similar piece on the Los Angeles following the 1992 riots that stemmed from the jury decision to acquit the police accused of beating Rodney King. Using the same techniques, she sketched a larger canvas in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992", portraying over 40 characters. The play won acclaim and earned Smith two Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Actress.
Born c. 1960
Western High School
American Conservatory Theatre
"I knew that I could not rely on my theater colleagues to get me 'with' the times, so I knew I was going to have to find a way to use art to put myself among the American people, in order to discover something about the American character. That's why I go out and interview people instead of making up things in my head; there's a trap that every play that I did would have MY voice, and not an American one." - Smith quoted in The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 1995
"Maybe there is something more strategic to what I'm doing than I realize. It has always been my nature never to be trapped in any ghetto, and when I saw through my training as an artist that [theater] could be a ghetto, I immediately started to move away and to find allies elsewhere." - from The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 1995
Smith was one of the 1996 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship.
Won a 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to civil rights issues.
Appointed the head of The Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue (1998).