Way back in 1986, Spike Lee’s first feature film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. More than 30 years later, his relationship with Cannes is coming full-circle as the French festival announced that the legendary director from Brooklyn will be president of the jury for 2020. It is the first time a Black creator has held the title.
“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 in the statement. “You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema.”
After premiering “She’s Gotta Have It,” the director returned again with other films: “Do The Right Thing” (1989, Official Selection in Competition), “Jungle Fever” (1991, Official Selection in Competition), “Girl 6” (1996, Official Selection Out of Competition), “Summer Of Sam” (1999, Director’s Fortnight ), “Ten Minutes Older” (2002, Official Selection in Un Certain Regard) and “BlacKkKlansman” (2018, Official Selection in Competition where it won the Grand Prix), which earned Lee the 2019 Academy Award for adapted screenplay, his first Oscar.
“So if you were keeping score that’s seven Spike Joints to be chosen,” the director said in the statement. “In closing, 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. The Lee family sincerely thanks the Festival de Cannes, Pierre Lescure and Thierry Frémaux and the great people of France who have supported my film career throughout four decades. I will always treasure this special relationship.”
The affection is apparently mutual. “In 2018, after a 22-year absence, Brooklyn-based director Spike Lee returned to the Competition with ‘BlacKkKlansman’ and offered up glaring proof of his still undiminished anger and virtuosity,” said the Cannes press release. Lee–who succeeds director Alejandro G. Iñárritu—will award the Palme d’Or to a new film in May 2020.