American filmmaker Spike Lee to head jury at the Cannes Film Festival

American director Spike Lee will lead the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in July, organizers said Tuesday, making him the first black person to take on the role.

The celebrated New York filmmaker was to perform the function at last year’s event, but it was canceled due to the pandemic.

With Covid-19 still circulating at high levels in France, and the country making slow progress in its vaccination campaign, doubts remain as to whether this year’s edition will proceed as planned from 6 to 17 July, as it has already been delayed from its usual time in May.

It would be the largest gathering for the global industry in more than a year, with most other festivals either discontinued or relocated to online versions in recent months.

Lee, 63, has been a fixture in Cannes over the years, premiering seven of his films there and winning the Grand Prix in second place in 2018 for “BlacKkKlansman” about a black policeman who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.

“During the months of uncertainty we have just gone 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 map out our troubled times.”

‘Great influence’

With a back catalog that has thrown a spotlight on issues of race and politics in the United States, Lee was seen as a symbolic choice at a time when the French film industry has been embroiled in controversy over the representation of minorities.

The jury in Cannes, which chooses the winner of the coveted Palme d’Or, has rarely shown much diversity in the president’s chair.

Hong Kong author Wong Kar-wai is the only Asian to have been honored, while French-Algerian actress Isabelle Adjani was the first of African descent in 1997.

Lee has tried his hand at many genres, but is best known for films that put the African-American experience at the center.

They have ranged from life classics like “Do the Right Thing” to more overt political works like “Malcolm X” and his latest Netflix hit “Da 5 Bloods” about black veterans of the Vietnam War.

“BlacKkKlansman” acted as a powerful anti-Trump statement and won him his first Oscar without counting on an honorary award he received in 2015.

“For me, the Cannes Film Festival (apart from being the most important film festival in the world – no disrespect for anyone) has had a major impact on my film career,” he said in a statement after being elected president of the jury last year.

“You could easily say that Cannes changed the course of who I became,” he added.

Read movies in Cannes

Lee exploded on to the movie scene in Cannes in 1986 with “She’s Gotta Have It”, which took home the youth award.

The story of a young New Yorker trying to choose between three men has become a cult classic and has recently been remade as a Netflix series.

When he returned to the Cote d’Azur three years later, he participated in the main competition with “Do the Right Thing”, his landmark film about a bloated day with charged race conditions in Brooklyn.

“Jungle Fever” (1991), “Girl 6” (1996), “Summer of Sam” (1999), “Ten Minutes Older” (2002) have also been presented at the festival.

The official selection for this year’s festival, along with the rest of the jury, will be chosen in early June.

The last Palme d’Or winner was South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho for “Parasite” 2019.

(AFP)