Lee, the man behind The Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing, disclosed he was “shocked, happy, surprised and proud”.
In its 73-year history, the French festival has never had a black person serving as jury president. This appointment means he will preside over the body which decides which films will receive an award.
Lee succeeds Mexican film director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose 2019 jury awarded the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the film festival, to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.”
The Cannes film festival’s official statement said Lee’s work had “brought the questions and contentious issues of the times to contemporary cinema” and acknowledged that many of his films had achieved cult status.
“Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever. Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas.
“Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up. What kind of president of the jury will he be? Find out in Cannes!” it added.
Responding to his appointment, Lee wrote in a statement: “In this life, I have lived, my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, when they happened out of nowhere.”
He added: “When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be President of the Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time.”
Lee has become an extremely important figure in Hollywood since the debut of his first movie in 1983. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, produced more than 35 films since 1983.
Lee’s long-standing relationship with the Cannes Festival dates back to 1986 when his first film, “She’s Gotta Have It” won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s Fortnight.
Since then, the movie “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Jungle Fever” (1991), “Summer of Sam” (1999) and “Ten Minutes Older” (2002) have been recognized by the festival in various capacities.
Lee’s latest movie, “BlacKkKlansman” (2018), won the Grand Prix at Cannes.