US director Spike Lee is to head the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in July. The New York filmmaker had been set to chair last year’s event before it was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.
Accepting the invitation in a recorded Twitter message, Lee said he was “very humbled”.
“Way back in 1986, my very first film She’s Gotta Have It played there and it was my introduction to the world of cinema, so Cannes will always have a deep, deep spot in my heart,” he said.
With Covid-19 still circulating at high levels in France, and the country making slow progress in its vaccination campaign, doubts remain over whether this year’s edition will go ahead as planned from 6 to 17 July, having already been delayed from its usual slot in May.
It would be the biggest get-together for the global industry in more than a year, with most other festivals either cancelled or relegated to online versions in recent months.
Lee, 63, has been a fixture at Cannes over the years, premiering seven of his films there and winning the second-place Grand Prix in 2018 for BlacKkKlansman about a black police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.
“Throughout the months of uncertainty we’ve just been through, Spike Lee has never stopped encouraging us,” said festival president Pierre Lescure in a statement.
“We could not have hoped for a more powerful personality to chart our troubled times.”
With a back-catalogue that has thrown a spotlight on issues of race and politics in the US, Lee was seen as a symbolic choice at a time when the French film industry has been mired in controversies over the representation of minorities.
Lee has tried his hand at many genres, but is best known for films that put the African-American experience front and centre.
Those have ranged from slice-of-life classics such as Do the Right Thing to more overtly political works such as Malcolm X and his most recent Netflix hit Da 5 Bloods about black veterans from the Vietnam War.
BlacKkKlansman served as a powerful anti-Trump statement and won him his first Oscar, not counting an honorary award he received in 2015.
Spike at Cannes
Lee exploded on to the film scene at Cannes in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, which took home the Youth Award.
Shot on a shoestring, the story of a young New Yorker trying to choose between three men has become a cult classic and was recently remade as a Netflix series.
When he returned to the Cote d’Azur three years later, he was in the main competition with Do The Right Thing, his landmark film about one sweltering day of charged race relations in Brooklyn.
Jungle Fever (1991), Girl 6 (1996), Summer of Sam (1999), Ten Minutes Older (2002) have also featured at the festival.
“I have a special place in my heart for Paris, for France and for the Cannes Film Festival… Book my flight!” he said in the Twitter message.
The official selection for this year’s festival, along with the rest of the jury are due to be named in early June.
The last Palme d’Or winner was South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho for Parasite in 2019.