Over the last 73 years, the Cannes Film Festival has often been billed as the world’s biggest and most glamorous celebration of the movies. But this year, it was poised to make history.
Director and activist Spike Lee had been selected as the first black president of the festival’s jury. Several of Lee’s films — including 1986’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” and 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman” — had premiered in the South of France. It was long overdue for him to lead the charge on who would take home the next Palme D’Or, the festival’s highest honor.
But on Thursday, after weeks of speculation as the coronavirus spreads around the world, the festival announced that this year’s Cannes had been postponed from its scheduled dates of May 12 to 23. Thierry Fremaux, the festival’s director, is now scrambling to see if he can reschedule Cannes for a later window, possibly in June or July.
“I agree 100% with Thierry and the Cannes Film Festival,” Lee said in an interview with Variety shortly after the announcement. “The world has changed and it’s changing every day. People are dying and France’s president has said, several times — I’m paraphrasing — ‘We are at war.’ We are in a war-like time.”
Lee continued, “The stuff that we love has to take a back seat: movies, TV, sports, the NBA is a global sport, baseball. So many things have been postponed, and I agree with this move.”
If the festival manages to shift to another date, Lee said he’d make himself available to take on his role as jury president. “Let’s not forget this is the world’s biggest film festival, the world’s biggest stage for cinema and I’ll be the first black president of the jury,” he said. “So look, I can’t pretend [to know] what’s going to happen tomorrow. Everybody has to pray, get on bended knee, pray, we get out of this, find a vaccine, get back on our feet — physically, emotionally and financially worldwide. This is no joke. It’s not some movie. People are dying.”
Lee, who lives in Brooklyn, said he’s spent the last few days with his family. “We’re doing whatever everybody else is trying to do – come together, love each other and just try to ride it out,” he said, as he lamented the lack of testing available to the public. “People are being laid off. People are being fired. People don’t know where their next check is going to come from, how they are going to see their children. When the schools close, who is going to take care of their children? This shit is crazy. This shit is bananas.”
The prominent Democrat, who has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, has been watching the president’s daily press conferences. He offered a serious word of caution. “I would like to say this: I wish he would stop saying ‘the Chinese virus,’” Lee said of Trump. “The president of the United States needs to stop calling this the Chinese virus. Please stop doing that.”
“He’s putting Asian Americans in this country in danger,” Lee said. “Stop saying Chinese virus. There’s nobody around him to say, ‘You can’t say this anymore’? That isn’t helping at all. Hopefully his base will understand. You just can’t say that.”