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Spike Lee named Cannes’ first black jury president in film fest’s 73-year history

Spike Lee
Spike Lee has been chosen as the 2020 jury president at the Cannes Film Festival.
(Jordan Strauss / Associated Press)

Director Spike Lee will lead the jury of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the first black person to hold the post in the event’s 73-year history.

Festival organizers hope Lee will “shake things up” among the world’s cinema elite at the festival, which runs May 12-23. And anti-racism campaigners hope Lee’s appointment wakes up the French cultural world to persistent discrimination and the damaging stereotypes it perpetuates.

Lee said he was “honored to be the first person of the African diaspora” chosen for the prestigious position.

Festival organizer Thierry Fremaux said Lee is the first black president of any major film festival, calling the decision a “message of universality.” Speaking on France’s RTL radio, Fremaux said it wasn’t a political decision, but noted that black artists are underrepresented in the cinema world.

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Many of Lee’s films have been shown at Cannes, and his “BlacKkKlansman” won a major prize at the festival two years ago. The rest of the jury members will be announced in April.

“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.”

Several of Lee’s films first screened at Cannes, including “Do the Right Thing” in 1989.

Without explicitly mentioning Lee’s career-long fight against racism or other political views, the festival said Lee’s “perspective is more valuable than ever” and that “Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas.”

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The honorary president of French black rights group CRAN welcomed the appointment of a filmmaker who confronts viewers and powers-that-be with strong opinions about discrimination and police violence.

“The arts world considers itself above questions of discrimination,” Louis-Georges Tin told the Associated Press. “But the #MeToo campaign showed that sexism is all too present in the arts world. And racism is too.”

Last year’s Cannes jury president was Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu, and the festival’s top prize went to Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” who was nominated Monday for best picture at the Oscars.


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