Spike Lee Talks About Netflix, George Floyd and His Beloved Knicks as Cannes Jury President

Spike Lee is making history at Cannes Film Festival. The Oscar-winning director is the first Black president of the jury, where he’ll head the nine artists and actors — including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tahar Rahim and Song Kang ho — tasked with voting on the prestigious Palm d’Or.

“Cannes is the world’s greatest film festival,” Lee said on Tuesday afternoon in the South of France. “No disrespecting other film festivals.”

Lee has been coming to Cannes since the 1980s. “One of my most memorable Cannes had nothing to do with film,” Lee said. “It was back in the 1990s, when the New York Knicks were good. We were in the NBA finals. I flew from Nice to New York for a game and came back.” He took a beat. “The Knicks lost that game.”

The first question at the press conference came from Chaz Ebert, who recalled how her late husband Roger was furious that Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” didn’t win the top jury prize in 1989.

“I want you to know that I have a very special place in my heart for Roger and you know that,” Lee said. That was not a popular decision what he felt about the film. A lot of people felt that, especially American press, said this start race riots all over America.”

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“A couple weeks ago was the 32nd anniversary of the film the film came out in 1989,” Lee added. “I wrote it in 1988. When you see brother Eric Gardner, when you see king George Floyd murdered. And you think and hope that 30 motherfucking years later, the Black people [will] stop being hunted down like animals. So, I’m glad to be here, though.”

The presence of Netflix as a disruptor in the world of cinema has always been a charged issue at Cannes. Since 2018, the festival hasn’t allowed the streaming service to participate in competition because only movies that have theatrical distribution in France can play here. Lee defended Netflix, after releasing his first film — “Da 5 Bloods” — on the platform last year.

“Cinema and screening platforms can coexist,” Lee said. “At one time ,there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema. This stuff is not new. It’s all cycle. And it’s well documented that ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ when it appeared at film festivals, was a launching pad for my career.”

There was a political moment in the press conference when a journalist from Georgia delivered a tear-filled monologue about her country’s anti-LGBTQ laws, asking the members of a jury to help her shine a spotlight on human rights injustices.

“I want to thank you for spreading information,” Lee said. “This world is run by gangsters: Agent Orange [Donald Trump], there’s a guy in Brazil and Putin. That’s it. They’re gangsters. They have no morals, no scruples, that’s the world we live in. We have to speak out against gangsters like that.

“Thank you for standing up and sharing that with the world press,” Lee said. “Now it’s on the journalists here to spread the world. Do your research. It’s not just criticizing movies. You can criticize world gangsters too.”

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