Visionary multi-hyphenate Spike Lee announced he will serve as jury president for the 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival in the spring. Lee has a 30-plus-year history with the festival, with some of his earliest films scooping up big honors along the way. But this jury president news is particularly major because Lee is now the first African-American to to preside over the Cannes jury as well as the first person hailing from the African diaspora, as Lee noted in his statement.
As Indiewire rightfully notes in their report, Lee’s appointment is a history-making decision. The Cannes jury president is a major force every year as every edition of the festival as they put their creative influence to good use in selecting which films should be honored. Lee, as a consummate cinéphile and, in particular, a champion of underdog filmmakers, is an inspired choice insofar as we should expect to see some particularly groundbreaking decisions made during his time in this role.
As part of the announcement made on Tuesday morning in Paris, Lee stated,
“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 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 also added, “In this life I have lived…my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, when they happened out of nowhere,” and went on to say he was “shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time” when offered the jury president position. He concluded his statement, “In closing I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora to be named President of the Cannes Jury and of a main film festival.”
Additionally, Cannes Film Festival president Pierre Lescure and festival director Thierry Frémaux released a shared statement on Lee taking on the jury president position at this year’s festival.
“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. 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. Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up. What kind of President of the Jury will he be? Find out in Cannes!”
Lee takes on the Cannes jury president role from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival will take place May 12-23. Further jury selections will be announced soon and we should expect the Cannes Festival line-up to be announced in April.