Spike Lee did not mince his words at the Cannes Film Festival jury press conference this afternoon, which raised the curtain on his history-making tenure as the event’s first Black Competition jury president in its 74-year history.
Lee is returning to the festival that helped launch his career when She’s Gotta Have It screened here in 1986. Three years later he showed his seminal movie Do The Right Thing in Cannes Competition.
Asking a question about what the fest means to Lee, Chaz Ebert, the wife of the late famed film critic Roger Ebert, noted that her husband had been appalled that Do The Right Thing had not received any awards from the Cannes jury that year, and had even threatened to boycott the festival as a result.
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Lee said that he had “a special place in [his] heart for Roger” and noted that U.S. press at the time thought the film “would start race riots all across America”.
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Pointing to the continued relevance of the film’s story, which sees the death of a Black character at the hands of police officers, more than three decades on, Lee name-dropped George Floyd and Eric Garner when he said, “You would think and hope that 30-something motherf*cking years later that Black people would have stopped being hunted down like animals.” The statement drew loud applause from attending press.
After a journalist used her question to express her fears about Russian oppression in Georgia, Lee responded by calling Donald Trump (“Agent Orange”), Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Vladimir Putin “gangsters” with “no morals, no scruples”.
“That’s the world we live in, and we have to speak out against gangsters like that,” he continued.
“Thanks for sharing that with the world press,” he said to the questioner. “Now it’s on the journalists here to spread the word”.
The filmmaker also recalled how one of his strongest memories of Cannes is flying all the way back to the States to watch the New York Knicks lose in the NBA play-offs, before returning to the fest. Lee was seen sporting a pair of Knicks-branded sneakers on the Croisette yesterday.
The prez then asked journalists to direct their questions to his fellow jury members – Mati Diop, Mylène Farmer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mélanie Laurent, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Tahar Rahim, and Song Kang-ho – though he did manage to squeeze in that Cannes is “the world’s greatest film festival”, adding “no disrespect to other festivals”.
Press then quizzed the speakers on whether there being a majority-female jury this year, a rarity at a major fest, would make a difference.
“I do think that [a jury with] a majority of women may respond differently to movies,” said Gyllenhaal. “I certainly think we make different movies. I’m so curious to see what happens with this new formulation.”
“This mirrors that our society is ready for a certain change that should have happened earlier,” added Hausner. “It takes a lot of time to change the images that we have in our heads of each other.”
“I would like to hear from men too,” noted Diop on the question only being posed to women. “Maybe one day we won’t have to say ‘woman director’. The jury and selection committee should be as balanced as possible.”
The jurors also expressed their surprise and delight at being able to attend a physical edition of Cannes this year despite the ongoing pandemic. Parasite star Song Kang-ho said it was “a miracle we’re all here together”, while Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho added, “Tonight’s my first time in a cinema in 15 months – thank you Thierry [Fremaux]”.
This is the last time the press get to speak to the jury before they enter their Cannes bubble, during which very little contact with the outside world will be allowed as they begin their deliberations over the next 11 days.
The fest opens tonight with Leo Carax’s musical Annette, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
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