Spike Lee 'Shocked' to Be Named Cannes Film Festival Jury's First Black President

Spike Lee at 2019 BAFTA tea party
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The acclaimed director will lead the festival's 73rd jury.

Acclaimed director Spike Lee will serve as the president of the Cannes Film Festival’s 73rd jury, making him the first black person to do so. In a statement released by the organization, the filmmaker said that he “was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time.” 

“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,” he continued.

In naming the 62-year-old filmmaker behind Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and most recently, BlacKkKlansman, the festival said that Lee “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.” 

In total, the director has screen seven films at the event, with Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman both nominated for the festival’s top prize, Palme d’Or, and the latter winning the Grand Prix.

“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,” Lee said. “You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema.” (Read his full statement here.)

As president of the jury, which will be announced in mid-April, he’ll be responsible for handing out the Palme d’Or at the close of the 73rd annual event, which runs May 12-23. 

Last year, The Revenant director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who was the first Latin American to become president, was responsible for awarding Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite the honor. In 2018, actress Cate Blanchett became the 12th woman to lead the jury.

The recognition for Lee also comes after the director won his first Oscar -- Best Adapted Screenplay -- at the 91st Academy Awards for writing BlacKkKlansman. He’s been nominated a total of five times. In 2016, he received an Honorary Oscar from the Academy for being “a champion of independent film and an inspiration to young filmmakers.”