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Spike Lee to be first black head of Cannes film festival jury

PARIS (AFP) – American director Spike Lee was named president of this year's Cannes film festival jury on Tuesday (Jan 14), becoming the first black head of the panel.

The maker of Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing is the first person of black African descent to preside at the world's biggest film festival, which is held in May on the French Riviera.

Lee, 62, said he was "shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time" to make history.

The Cannes veteran has premiered seven of his films at the festival, with his debut movie She's Gotta Have It causing a sensation in 1986 when it won the youth prize at Directors' Fortnight.

His appointment comes as activists criticised the Oscars on Monday for ignoring actors of colour, with no nominations for the acclaimed performances of Awkwafina in the Chinese-American drama The Farewell and Lupita Nyong'o in the horror movie Us.

There was joy, however, for Ladj Ly, the black French director of Les Miserables, which was in the running for best foreign film Oscar after winning the jury prize at Cannes.

Lee – who showed his last film BlacKkKlansman at Cannes two years ago – said "my biggest blessings… have happened out of nowhere.

"I'm honoured to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named president of the Cannes jury and of a main film festival."

Lee will also be awarded a Palme d'Or, the festival's top award, for lifetime achievement.

In a written statement from his home in "Da People's Republic Of Brooklyn, New York", Lee said Cannes had changed his life.

"To me, the Cannes film festival (besides being the most important film festival in the world – no disrespect to anybody) has had a great impact on my film career.

"You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became," he added.

LACK OF DIVERSITY

Only one Asian, the Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, has ever led the Cannes jury in its 73-year history.

French actress Isabelle Adjani, whose father was Algerian, became the first person of African descent to lead the jury in 1997.

The world's top film festivals have faced fierce criticism for their lack of diversity in recent years.

Cannes and its rival Venice have faced growing scrutiny, particularly for the lack of female directors in their main competitions, even as they have chosen gender-balanced juries.

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