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Spike Lee Opens Cannes Festival as First Black Jury President

Spike Lee Opens Cannes Festival as First Black Jury President

The 74th Cannes Film Festival kicked off yesterday for the first time since 2019 after its cancelation last spring due to the pandemic. Spanning almost two weeks, this year’s festival features a total of 24 films in the running for the Palme d’Or, a few more than typically included in the official selection, according to NPR. Over fifty others will be screened outside of competition, and a new category of ‘Cannes Premieres’ has been introduced in order to highlight films that may not have received proper recognition amid the chaos of 2020.

American director Spike Lee is making history this year as the festival’s first-ever Black Jury head. He will oversee the panel of jurors responsible for choosing the 74th winner. Lee was joined at the opening ceremony by actress Jodie Foster, who received the Palme d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award, and director Bong Joon-ho, whose “Parasite” won the prestigious Palme in 2019. Screenings commenced with the premiere of Leos Carax’s Annette starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver.

Lee’s presence at the 74th Cannes looms large in more ways than one. He is literally the face of the festival – marking the first time a jury president has appeared on the official poster – and has set a powerful tone for the proceedings.

“When you see brother Eric Garner, when you see king George Floyd murdered, lynched, I think of Radio Raheem,” Lee said, referring to the “Do the Right Thing” character. “And you think and hope that 30 mother-fucking years later, Black people would’ve stopped being hunted down like animals.”

Reflecting on the 32nd anniversary of “Do the Right Thing,” Lee said that in many ways it does not seem like much progress has been made since the film’s 1989 premiere.

Lee separately addressed the matter of streaming as it pertains to the festival. Cannes consistently rejects films without French theatrical distribution from participating in competition, according to USA Today. In recent years, it has denounced streaming platforms such as Netflix, for which Lee directed “Da 5 Bloods” last year. When questioned, Lee defended the service, stating that “cinema and screening platforms can coexist … At one time, there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema,” he said. “So, this stuff is not new.”

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