Lee, seated alongside his fellow jurors, said, "When you see brother Eric Gardner, when you see king George Floyd, murdered, lynched, I think of Radio Raheem. You would think and hope that 30-something mothafuckin' years later, Black people would stop being hunted down like animals. So I'm glad to be here though."
“This world is run by gangsters,” Spike Lee, the president of the jury for the 74th Cannes Film Festival, said during a press conference with the full jury at the Palais on Tuesday ahead of the fest’s opening night screening of Annette. Lee, responding to a Georgian journalist’s emotional question about Russian oppression in her country, continued: “This world is run by gangsters — Agent Orange [Donald Trump], the guy in Brazil [president Jair Bolsinaro] and [Russian president Vladimir] Putin. They’re gangsters, and they’re gonna do what they want to do. They have no morals and no scruples. And we have to speak out against gangsters like that.”
The other questions for the jury — comprised of Lee, Mati Diop, Mylene Farmer, Kleber Mendonca Filho, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Song Kang Ho, Melanie Laurent and Tahar Rahim — were related to the festival, film and the return from COVID lockdown.
The first was posed to Lee by Chaz Ebert, the journalist and widow of the film critic Roger Ebert, who pointed out that Lee has a long history with Cannes. His first film to screen atthe fest was She’s Gotta Have It in 1986 (which Lee called “a launching pad for my career”), but his second, in 1989, is remembered rather infamously: Do the Right Thing was snubbed by a Wim Wenders-led jury. Lee made it clear that he harbors no ill-will towards the fest itself: “Cannes is the world’s greatest film festival, no disrespect to any other film festival,” he said, adding that he once undertook a crazy journey to be at the fest while also supporting his favorite basketball team. “It was back in the ’90s when the New York Knicks were good, and we were in the finals. I flew from Nice to New York for a game and came back.” He added, “Knicks lost that game.”
What Lee marveled at more than his long history with the fest is how sadly relevant Do the Right Thing still is. Donning a 1619 hat, he said, “When you see brother Eric Gardner, when you see king George Floyd, murdered, lynched, I think of Radio Raheem. You would think and hope that 30-something mothafuckin’ years later, Black people would stop being hunted down like animals. So I’m glad to be here though.”
Song, who was at the last edition of Cannes prior to the pandemic — he starred in the eventual Palme d’Or winner Parasite — admitted that he was skeptical that this year’s edition would actually occur. He admitted, “When I got the email asking me to be on the jury, I was wondering, ‘Could the festival really take place?’ And I think that the fact that we’re here today, it’s really a miracle.”
Asked about the fact that the jury is majority female for the first time ever, Gyllenhaal acknowledged, “I think it’s important. I think when women are listening to themselves and really expressing themselves, even inside of a very, very male culture, we make movies differently, we tell stories differently.”
Diop (whose film Atlantics played at the fest two years ago), Hausner and Rahim occasionally answered questions in French. Filho, a Brazilian critic turned director (best known for Bacarau, which played at Cannes two years ago), noted that he used to attend this press conference in his capacity as a journalist. And Gyllenhaal and Filho said that they haven’t seen a movie in a mother theater in 15 months, and thus were diving back in head-first with the 24 that they will screen as jurors in the Palais.