The 2021 Cannes Film Festival got underway Tuesday (July 6) with Spike Lee presiding as the first-ever Black president of the jury.
The Oscar-winning director and writer reflected on his relationship with Cannes during a press conference. According to Variety, the first question came from late film critic Roger Ebert’s wife, Chaz, about how disgruntled her husband was that Lee’s Do the Right Thing didn’t win the Palme d’Or in 1989.
“That was not a popular decision what he felt about the film,” Lee, 64, said. “A lot of people felt that, especially American press, said this [would] start race riots all over America. A couple weeks ago was the 32nd anniversary of the film. I wrote it in 1988.”
He continued: “When you see brother Eric Garner, when you see king George Floyd murdered, lynched. I think of Radio Raheem. And you think and hope that 30 m—f—ing years later, Black people would stop being hunted down like animals. So, I’m glad to be here, though.”
Radio Raheem, played by the late Bill Nunn, blared “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy in the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood until he is choked to death by a police officer.
The proud New Yorker’s trips to Cannes began when She’s Gotta Have It, his debut film, debuted at the French festival in 1986. Lee will receive a lifetime achievement award alongside Barry Alexander Brown on July 12, an honor first reported by Variety on Monday (July 5).
Along with She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing, Lee debuted BlacKkKlansman at Cannes in 2018. The crime drama starred John David Washington—yes, Denzel’s son—and earned Lee his first (and previously elusive) Oscar for best adapted screenplay at the 91st Academy Awards.