"I just felt that that was a perfect platform," Lee said in an interview Monday with The Times about his 17-minute speech. "Look at the audience. The studio heads are right there; I'm speaking directly to them."
Lee made appeals to a crowd at the Dolby Theater of Hollywood heavyweights, with his former and current leading men — Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes and
"Spike Lee has put more African Americans to work in this business than anyone else in this business," Washington said.
Days later, Lee responded to Washington's claims: "I know it, and a lot of other people don't know it. But it's great when I don't have to say it and someone else says it," he said, letting out a roaring laugh.
As Hollywood begins to take heed of Lee's words, the Atlanta-born, Brooklyn-raised icon remains committed to the cause after more than 30 years of filmmaking.
"I get tired of [the conversation about diversity], but it's necessary," he said, adding he will remain committed until the industry reflects the broader world.
Though more people are now speaking up and out about the dearth of roles and opportunities in Hollywood for people of color and women, the industry has yet to arrive at a point when diversity no longer is just a buzzword. How will we know when it's arrived? Lee cites a song from the well-reviewed Broadway production "Hamilton," titled "The Room Where It Happens."
"I know that we'll have begun to arrive when we get one person who has a greenlight vote," he said. "We're not in the room at these greenlight sessions that decide what will make it and what ain't making it. We don't have a vote. We're not in the conversation. We're not in the room."
Vanessa Morrison, head of animation at Fox, is the rare African American in the studio system who has a greenlight vote, Lee said. That's why he said during his acceptance speech that "it's easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio."
"That's mind-boggling," he said. "It shouldn't be that way."
Check out the full speech below: