Cannes Film Fest 2021: Spike Lee, Jury President, Calls Out Trump and Putin, Says “World Is Run by Gangsters”

Lee, responding to Georgian journalist’s 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. We have to speak out against gangsters like that.”

The jury is comprised of Lee, Mati Diop, Mylene Farmer, Kleber Mendonca Filho, Maggie Gyllenhaal,  Jessica Hausner, Song Kang Ho, Melanie Laurent and Tahar Rahim.

Lee has a long history with Cannes. His first film to screen at the 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 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 he was skeptical about this year’s edition; “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.”

Filho, a Brazilian critic turned director, whose Bacarau played at Cannes two years ago, noted that he used to attend this press conference in his capacity as a journalist.

Gyllenhaal and Filho haven’t seen a movie in a theater in 15 months, and thus were excited about the 24 movies they will be judging as jurors in the Palais, on one of the world’s biggest screens.