Spike Lee Becomes 1st Black Filmmaker to Lead Cannes Film Festival Jury

Claudine Varela
Jan 17, 2020
09:20 A.M.

Spike Lee says he was "shocked" by the announcement that he was this year's president of the Cannes Film Festival jury, marking a first in the festival's 73-year history.


Following his momentous win at the Oscars last year, Spike Lee is celebrating another victory, one that will go down in Black history. He was recently named the new president of the Cannes Film Festival jury, marking the first time for a Black filmmaker to hold the position

Lee’s reaction to the announcement was that of shock and reveals it was an unexpected blessing in a statement he released after he received the momentous call.

Spike Lee holding up his Oscar award for Best Director at the 2019 Academy Awards. | Photo: Getty Images

Spike Lee holding up his Oscar award for Best Director at the 2019 Academy Awards. | Photo: Getty Images



In an announcement on the festival’s website, Lee was identified as this year’s jury president who will also award the prestigious Palm d’or during the award show’s closing. It will be the 73rd edition of the annual awards pageant which will take place in May.

The statement cited Lee’s ability to creative cult films and raise social awareness as his assets. It adds that Lee’s “flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up.”

“You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema." - Spike Lee



Lee’s full statement in reaction to the announcement was featured on the website and it bore both his shock and pride.

“In this life I have lived … my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected when they happened out of nowhere,” he began. “When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be President of Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time.”

Lee also recognized the significance of the largest annual film festival in the world to his career. “You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema,” he said.


Lee has premiered a total of seven films in the festival including his critically acclaimed “BlacKkKlansman” which won him his first Oscar for Best Director last year. In 1986, his film, “She’s Gotta Have It” won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s Fortnight.

The five other films which made it to the Official Selection of the prestigious award-giving body were "Do The Right Thing" in 1989, "Jungle Fever" in 1991, "Girl 6" in 1996, "Summer of Sam" in 1999, and "Ten Minutes Older" in 2002


Lee’s appointment couldn’t come at a more opportune time especially when the recent climate among award-giving bodies is riddled with accusations of lack of diversity. The British Academy of Film and Television Awards was recently called out for its all-white roster of nominees this year. Likewise, the 2020 Oscar nominees are predominantly White.

Cannes Film Festival president Thierry Fremaux confirms that Lee is the first Black president in any major festival and said that it was a political decision. He hopes Lee’s presence in the jury would send out a “message of universality.”

In the meantime, Lee is merely celebrating the fact that "BROOKLYN WINS!!! (AGAIN)" when he posted about his Cannes appointment along with a photo of him wearing a sweater with "New York" emblazoned on it. Congratulations to Spike Lee for this well-deserved honor.

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