"This is no joke. It’s not some movie. People are dying," said the Oscar-winning filmmaker

By Benjamin VanHoose
March 20, 2020 12:56 PM
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Spike Lee is all for prioritizing safety during the global coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the Cannes Film Festival announced that it wouldn’t be taking place this May in Cannes, France, due to growing concerns about COVID-19. Lee was set to be the festival’s first-ever black jury president.

The BlacKkKlansman director, who turned 63 on Friday, said he agrees “100 percent” with the decision to postpone the event.

“The world has changed and it’s changing every day,” Lee told Variety on Thursday. “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. The stuff that we love has to take a back seat: movies, TV, sports … so many things have been postponed, and I agree with this move.”

Lee — who mentioned that he’s spending his time self-isolating trying to “come together, love each other and just try to ride it out” with his family — stressed the urgency and seriousness of the health crisis.

“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,” he said. “This is no joke. It’s not some movie. People are dying.”

He added: “This s— is crazy. This s— is bananas.”

Spike Lee
Christopher Polk/REX/Shutterstock

The festival announced the decision on Twitter, writing: “Due to the health crisis and the development of the French and international situation, the Festival de Cannes will no longer be able to take place on the dates planned, from May 12 to 23.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, festival organizers are hoping to reschedule for sometime in June. While this marks the first time in history that the Cannes Film Festival has been postponed since it started running annually in 1946, the very first planned festival in 1939 was canceled when World War II broke out.

As of March 20, there have been 10,995 confirmed cases of the virus and 372 deaths in France, according to a New York Times database.

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Eva Longoria at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2015, in Cannes, France.
Francois Durand/Getty

When he was announced as the jury president in January, Lee said he was “honored” — and “shocked” — about the appointment.

“When I got the call…I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time,” he said in a statement at the time. “I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named President of the Cannes Jury and of a main film festival.”

A longtime darling of festival organizers, the director has been invited to show (in and out of competition) at the festival on seven occasions, beginning with his first feature She’s Gotta Have It, which won the Youth Prize in 1986. His films Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever were later shortlisted for the festival’s Palme d’Or.

Recognizing Lee’s history of stirring up controversy at the event, the festival organizers acknowledged his “flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up” in their announcement.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.