Los Angeles — Spike Lee told an audience of entertainment luminaries that it's easier for a black person to become President of the United States than head of a Hollywood studio or network.
Lee made the remarks Saturday as he accepted an Oscar statuette at the film academy's seventh annual Governors Awards dinner in Hollywood, where Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds were also honourees.
"We need to have some serious discussions about diversity and get some flavour up in this," Lee said. "This industry is so behind sports it's ridiculous."
The filmmaker praised Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs for "trying to do something that needs to be done." Earlier in the evening, Isaacs called on the industry powers in attendance to take action toward "recognising and embracing a broad cross-section of talent." She also announced the academy's new five-year plan to improve diversity in its staff and governance.
Isaacs opened the Governors Awards ceremony with condolences for France in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
"All of us here stand in solidarity and support of France and the French people," she said. "Our connection with the film-loving French is especially deep."
Lee offered "peace and love to people in France" as he received his award. Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson brought the filmmaker onstage for his Oscar.
"Spike Lee has put more African-Americans to work in this business than anyone else in this business," Washington said in his introduction.
Cate Blanchett and Laura Linney each paid tribute to Rowlands, calling her a trailblazer and inspiration. The 85-year-old actress, whose career spans six decades, received her Oscar from her son, Nick Cassavettes, who directed his mother in 2004's The Notebook. He noted that the award was "the first Oscar in the family."
Looking lovingly at the golden trophy, Rowlands thanked the academy governors for "introducing me to this fine fellow."
"He's very handsome," she said. "You know, he's just so elegant... I think I'll take him home."
Reynolds received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep introduced the 83-year-old entertainer, who announced Friday that she would be unable to attend the ceremony.
Reynolds was recognised for her decades-long commitment to various charities, including the mental health organization she founded, the Thalians. Her granddaughter accepted Reynolds' statuette.
A live band played throughout the evening, and there were two musical interludes: Zooey Deschanel performed the Oscar-nominated song Reynolds sang in 1958's Tammy and the Bachelor. Aloe Blacc sang A Change is Gonna Come as part of Lee's introduction.
Other famous faces at the starry dinner included Johnny Depp and wife Amber Heard, Daniel Craig and wife Rachel Weisz, Will Smith, Ice Cube, Mark Ruffalo, Quentin Tarantino, Saoirse Ronan and Michael Caine. Portions of the untelevised ceremony may be included in the 2016 Academy Awards telecast.