Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Humanitas: A Prize, Not a Weapon

Just in case there are any Sopranos fans among us, some might recall the moment on this week's episode when a character noted an award he received from the "Paulist Brothers"... before being bludgeoned with it.

Established in 1974 by the late priest-producer Ellwood "Bud" Kieser, a member of the Paulist Fathers, the Humanitas Prize honors "stories which affirm the dignity of the human person, probe the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom, [and] reveal in each person the common humanity of every other person, so that love may come to permeate the human family and help liberate, enrich and unify society." Awarded annually, a jury comprised of Hollywood heavyweights splits up $145,000 in prizes to deserving screenwriters; its appearance on one of the final episodes of TV's most influential drama indicates the regard with which it's held in the entertainment community... even if a character ended up getting bludgeoned with it.

Saying that it fit the prize's criteria of "mak[ing] a significant contribution to the human family by communicating values, forming consciences and motivating human behavior," last year the Humanitas Board gave its first "special award" in a decade to the Al Gore global-warming flick An Inconvenient Truth. Past winners of the prize include Bill Cain SJ, creator of Nothing Sacred, the mid-90's ABC drama which chronicled the life of an inner-city priest (and was canceled amid protests by intra-church activists); Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for the Good Will Hunting screenplay; Tim Robbins for bringing the story of the "death row nun" Sister Helen Prejean to the big screen in Dead Man Walking; the iconic Aaron Sorkin for The West Wing, and even Harvey Fierstein has a Humanitas to his name.

Alongside an award named for Kieser, who died in 2000, an annual Humanitas with an emphasis on comedy is now given in memory of David and Lynn Angell, who died aboard the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. A co-creator of the long-running NBC classic Frasier, David Angell was the brother of retired Bishop Kenneth Angell of Burlington.