Spike Lee Named First Black President of Cannes Film Festival Jury in 73 Years: 'I Was Shocked'

Peter Milkelbank

Celebrated director Spike Lee was announced as Jury President of upcoming Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday morning.

The choice makes Lee the first African-American selected to head the panel in the festival’s history. In a statement posted on the festival website early Tuesday morning, the Oscar-winning director said he was “honored” to be chosen for the important position.

“When I got the call…I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time,” the director, 62, said, also acknowledging the position’s historic nature. “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.”

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A longtime darling of festival organizers, Lee has been invited to show (In and Out of Competition) at the festival on seven occasions beginning with his first feature She’s Gotta Have, which won the Youth Prize in 1986. His films Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever were later shortlisted for the festival’s Palme d’Or.

His 2018 entry, BlackkKlansman, captured the Jury Prize in 2018. The film went on to win Lee an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Spike Lee | Christopher Polk/REX/Shutterstock

His selection is not without controversy. Lee’s personal history at the festival has been one marked with allegations of racism, political outbursts and lingering ‘we was robbed’ sentiments.

In 1989 after Do The Right Thing lost out to Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape, Lee famously suggested that year’s Jury President “better watch out” because “somewhere deep in my closet I have a Louisville Slugger with (Wim) Wenders name on it.”

Lee continued to be at the center of controversy in future appearances, using Cannes as a platform to attack the NRA over gun control and later, Clint Eastwood’s failure to depict black troops in his WWII epic Letters From Iwo Jima.

Recognizing Lee’s history of stirring up controversy, the festival organizers acknowledged his “flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up” in their announcement.

Additional jury members and the schedule of films will be announced in April. The festival’s 73rd edition will run from May 12 – 23.