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Spike Lee is first black person to lead Cannes Film Festival jury

Lee succeeds Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose 2019 jury awarded the Palme d’Or to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite."
Image: Spike Lee
Spike Lee poses during a photocall for the film "BlacKkKlansman" at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France on May 15, 2018.Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images

"BlacKkKlansman" director Spike Lee will lead the Cannes Film Festival's 2020 jury, the festival announced on Tuesday.

Lee will be the first black person in the French festival's 73-history to serve as jury president, presiding over the body of artists who choose which films will receive an award. He succeeds Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose 2019 jury awarded the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the film festival, to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite."

"In this life I have lived, my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, 
when they happened out of nowhere," Lee wrote in a statement. "When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be President of Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time."

Lee, 62, has a long-established history with the festival, dating back to 1986, when his first feature film "She's Gotta Have It" won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the
 Director's Fortnight. Several of his subsequent films, including "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "Jungle Fever" (1991), "Summer of Sam" (1999) and "Ten Minutes Older" (2002) have also been recognized by the festival in various capacities. Lee's latest movie, ""BlacKkKlansman" (2018), won the Grand Prix at Cannes, which Lee credits with being the "launching pad" for the film's global theatrical release and 2019 Academy Award win for best adapted screenplay.

Cannes president Pierre Lescure and festival director Thierry Frémaux called Lee’s perspective "more valuable than ever" in the festival's announcement.

“Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas," Lescure and Frémaux wrote. "Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up."

Cannes will take place May 12-23 and the rest of Lee's jury will be revealed in mid-April. The announcement, which credits Lee for "paving the way for a new generation of African American" artists comes a day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences faced backlash for its nearly all-white Oscar nominees in its acting categories.