Spike Lee has never been afraid to challenge the status quo in the filmmaking world. Just last year, after winning Best Adapted Screenplay for his film BlacKkKlansman but losing to Green Book for Best Picture at the Oscars, Lee made a comment after the awards: “Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose.”
30 years prior, Lee made one of the most revered films on the intricate yet constantly imbalanced state of race relations in the U.S., Do the Right Thing. It was completely snubbed at the 62nd Academy Awards, which saw Driving Miss Daisy win Best Picture.
Now Lee has the chance to recognize work by filmmakers that are perhaps as overlooked as he was, even during the height of his career. The Cannes Film Festival announced Tuesday that the renowned director will be the jury president at the 73rd installment of Cannes, which will run from May 12-23.
“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. You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema,” Lee said in a statement. “It started way back in 1986—my first feature film She’s Gotta Have It, which won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Directors’ Fortnight. The next joint was in 1989—Do the Right Thing, an Official Selection in Competition. And I don’t have the time nor space to write about the cinematic explosion that jumped off, still relative to this, 30 years later.”
While Lee has certainly seen more action at Cannes compared to other film festivals (seven of his films have premiered there), he has been consistently overlooked when it comes to awards recognition, and he’s been vocal about the staggered odds against him as a black filmmaker since the beginning of his career. At the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, the jury president at the time, Wim Wenders, awarded the coveted Palm d’Or to Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape. Lee was outraged, joking that he had a Louisville slugger with Wenders’ name on it. When Green Book won Best Picture, Lee jumped out of his seat in outrage.
As the first black jury president of the Cannes Film Festival, there’s no doubt that Lee will try to highlight films that come from less homogenous and white experiences. Last year’s Cannes jury president, Mexican director of The Revenant Alejandro González Iñárritu, was responsible for giving Parasite the Palm d’Or, which gave the film ample hype for its eventual release and made history as the first South Korean film to take home that award.
“At 62, the filmmaker, who is also a screenwriter, actor, editor and producer, 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,” reads the festival’s press release. “Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever. Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas. Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up. What kind of President of the Jury will he be? Find out in Cannes!”
At the very least, we can rest knowing that Lee will do the right thing—the status quo is getting shaken up this year.