Spike Lee to head Cannes film festival jury
US director Spike Lee was named president of the 2020 Cannes film festival jury on Tuesday, becoming the first black head of the panel.
The maker of Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing is the first person of African descent to preside at the world’s biggest film festival, held in May on the French Riviera.
Lee, 62, said he was “shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time” to make history.
The Cannes veteran has premiered seven of his films at the festival, with his debut, She’s Gotta Have It, causing a sensation in 1986 when it won the youth prize at Directors’ Fortnight.
His appointment comes as activists criticised the Oscars on Monday for ignoring actors of colour, with no nominations for the acclaimed performances of Awkwafina in Chinese-American drama The Farewell and Lupita Nyong’o in the horror movie Us.
There was joy, however, for Ladj Ly, the black French director of Les Miserables, which was in the running for best foreign film Oscar after winning the jury prize at Cannes.
Lee – who showed his last film, BlacKkKlansman, at Cannes in 2018 – said “my biggest blessings ... have happened out of nowhere”.
He will also be awarded a Palme d’Or, the festival’s top award, for lifetime achievement.
“You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became,” Lee said.
Only one Asian, the Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, has led the Cannes jury in its 73-year history.
Cannes and rival Venice have faced growing scrutiny, particularly for the lack of female directors in their main competitions.
More than 80 actresses and woman filmmakers staged a red-carpet protest at Cannes for equality in the film industry in 2018.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux said Lee’s perspective was more valuable than ever.
“Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up,” he said.