US director Spike Lee will serve as jury president of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, which will run this year from May 12-May 23.
“When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be president of Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time,” said Lee.
”I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named president of the Cannes Jury and of a main film festival.”
Lee becomes the first black jury president in the history of the festival, although Mauritanian-born Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako presided over the Un Certain Regard jury in 2003.
Brooklyn-raised director, screenwriter, actor, editor and producer Lee, 62, has shown seven works in Cannes over his career. He first hit the Croisette in 1986 with his debut feature She’s Gotta Have It, which premiered in parallel section Directors’ Fortnight, winning the Prix du Jeunesse. The award aimed at films in Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight ran from 1982 to 2002. It was also won by international filmmakers including Lynne Ramsay and Baz Luhrmann.
Lee said that experience had been a game-changer for his filmmaking career. “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 wrote.
The filmmaker returned to premiere New York-set dramas Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever in Competition in 1989 and 1991, respectively. He then debuted comedy drama Girl 6 played Out of Competition in 1996 and was back in Directors’ Fortnight in 1999 with crime tale Summer Of Sam.
In 2002, he took part in Un Certain Regard with Ten Minutes Older, a portmanteau film involving seven directors also including Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders and Aki Kaurismäki. Lee directed a segment entitled The Trumpet.
After a 22-year break, Lee returned to Competition with the political thriller BlacKkKlansman in 2018, which won the Grand Prix and went on to win Lee his first Oscar last year for best adapted screenplay.
Cannes Film Festival president Pierre Lescure and Thierry Frémaux said they expected Lee ”to shake things up” under his presidency.
“Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever,” they said in a joint statement. ”Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas. Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up.”
In a statement on Lee’s work and legacy, the festival said he had paved the way for a new generation of African American directors such as Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) Jordan Peele (Get Out), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Ava DuVernay (Selma).
”Behind his outsize glasses, Spike Lee’s determined gaze captures the issues of his time, such as machismo and the herd instinct (Summer Of Sam), the representation of Afro-Americans in the media (The Very Black Show) or the loss of moral values (She Hate Me). Although he situates his stories in American society, he goes well beyond its confines to transcend borders and deliver a universal discourse on tolerance, fraternity (Get on the Bus) or forgiveness (He Got Game),” the festival said.
Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was jury president in 2019. His jury awarded the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon ho’s Parasite, which has gone on to become a box office hit at home and internationally, win the Golden Globe for best foreign film, and is now a front-runner in the Oscar race with six nominations, including best film and best international film.
The overall composition of the jury has become increasingly diverse over the last five years, with recent members including Maimouna N’Diaye in 2019, Khadja Nin and Ava DuVernay in 2018, and Will Smith in 2017.
The first black jury member in the history of the festival was Senegalese director and writer Ousmane Sembène, who served alongside Shirley MacLaine and Vincente Minelli at the 20th edition in 1967.
Spike Lee’s statement in full:
“In this life I have lived, my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, when they happened out of nowhere. When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be President of Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time.
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.
It started way back in 1986 – my first feature film She’s Gotta Have It, which won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s 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.
Then Jungle Fever 1991 - Official Selection in Competition, Girl 6 1996 - Official Selection out of Competition, Summer Of Sam 1999 - Director’s Fortnight, Ten Minutes Older 2002 - Official Selection in Un Certain Regard and then BlacKkKlansman 2018 - Official Selection in Competition where it won the Grand Prix, which became the launching pad for the world theatrical release which led to my Academy Award for screenplay.
So if you were keeping score that’s 7 Spike Joints to be chosen.
In closing I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named President of the Cannes Jury and of a main film festival.
The Lee family sincerely thanks the Festival de Cannes, Pierre Lescure and Thierry Frémaux and the great people of France who have supported my film career throughout four decades. I will always treasure this special relationship.
Peace and Love,”
Da People’s Republic Of Brooklyn, New York.