Spike Lee leads the jury of this year’s Cannes Film Festival (July 6-17) and festival organisers hope the provocative American director will “shake things up” at the gathering of the world’s cinema elite.
Lee said he was “honoured to be the first person of the African diaspora” chosen for the prestigious position.
Festival organiser Thierry Fremaux said naming the first black president of the Cannes jury wasn’t a political decision, but “a message of universality”. Speaking on France’s RTL radio last week, Fremaux noted the diverse nationalities of jury members and directors whose films are screened at Cannes.
Many of Lee’s films have been shown at Cannes, and his BlacKkKlansman won a major prize last year.
“When I got the call … I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time,” Lee said in a letter. He said Cannes “changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema.”
Without explicitly mentioning Lee’s career-long fight against racism or other political views, the festival said in a statement: “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.”
Last year’s jury president was Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu, and the festival’s top prize went to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” nominated this week for best international film at the Oscars.
Lee, who is heading the jury that will decide the winner of the festival’s top prize – the Palme d’Or- arrived at Tuesday’s jury press conference wearing a “1619” baseball hat and trying to keep a low profile.
His face as Mars Blackmon from his 1986 feature film debut She’s Gotta Have It (which premiered at Cannes) adorns this year’s poster at the festival central hub, the Palais des Festivals.
Lee is the first Black person to ever lead Cannes’ prestigious jury. In his first comments, in response to a question from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, Lee spoke about how little has changed since 1989’s Do the Right Thing – which made a controversial debut at Cannes.
“When you see brother Eric Garner, when you see king George Floyd murdered, lynched, I think of Ray (Radio) Raheem,” Lee said, referring to the Do the Right Thing character. “You would think and hope that 30-something motherf**ing years later that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.” “I’m glad to be here, though,” he added.
This year’s competition line-up includes a Cannes-high four female filmmakers, but they still make up a fraction of the 24 filmmakers vying for the Palme.
“I think when women are listening to themselves and really expressing themselves, even inside, about a very, very male culture, we make movies differently. We tell stories differently,” said Gyllenhaal. She recalled watching Jane Campion’s “The Piano” (the lone film directed by a woman to ever win the Palme) as formative and unfiltered. “It just went in straight.”The 74th Cannes Festival officially opened with the premiere of Annette, a fantastical musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. – Rédaction Africanews