Spike Lee Becomes First Black President of the Cannes Film Festival Jury

Spike Lee has made history becoming the first black filmmaker to head the 73rd annual 2020 Cannes Film Festival Jury.  The popular 11-day French film festival is the largest international and most prestigious annual film festival. Lee will preside over the body of artists who choose which films will receive an award. The announcement was made by the festival in Paris.

This makes Spike Lee the first African-American to serve as jury president for the festival and also the first person from the African diaspora.

“I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora to be named President of the Cannes jury,” Lee said in a statement.

The Cannes film festival’s official statement said Lee’s work had “brought the questions and contentious issues of the times to contemporary cinema” and acknowledged that many of his films had achieved cult status.

“Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever. Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas,” it added.

The Academy Award-winning filmmaker will also be awarded an honorary Palme d’Or for lifetime achievement.

“To me the Cannes Film Festival (besides being the most important film festival in the world — no disrespect to anybody) has had a great impact on my film career. You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema,” he said. “It started way back in 1986 — my first feature film ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ which won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Directors’ Fortnight. The next joint was in 1989 — “Do the Right Thing,” an Official Selection in Competition. And I don’t have the time nor space to write about the cinematic explosion that jumped off, still relative to this, 30 years later,” Lee said.

Lee has had seven films premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, including “Jungle Fever” (1991), “Girl 6” (1996), “Summer of Sam” (1999), “Ten Minutes Older” (2002), and “BlacKkKlansman” (2018), which won him the Grand Prix. For that film, Cannes served as a launching pad that took Lee all the way to the Oscars in 2019, where he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“At 62, the filmmaker, who is also a screenwriter, actor, editor and producer, has made numerous films that have become cult objects, and he brought the questions and contentious issues of the times to contemporary cinema. But he’s never lost sight of the public, setting out to raise their awareness of his causes in film after film,” the festival said in a statement. “Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever. Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas

Spike Lee will succeed Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose jury, in 2019, awarded the Palme d’Or to Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” now the first South Korean film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The 2020 Festival de Cannes will take place from May 12 to May 23 in Cannes, France.

Congratulations, Spike!

Photo credit: Spike Lee/Nicola Goode

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