Film Producer Will Packer Explains What His Success Means For Blacks In Hollywood [Interview]
Will Packer shares what’s next for Black Hollywood after becoming an undeniable figure in the industry thanks to his love of black audiences.
For the past several years, Will Packer has evolved into one of the most undeniable figures within Hollywood producer circles thanks to over a dozens of blockbuster films that have catered primarily to African American audiences. These include Girls Trip, Ride Along, Think Like A Man, Straight Outta Compton, Obsessed, Stomp The Yard and a host of others leading to his hit-a-year average.
“Listen, man, I am super ambitious and what that means is that I have to go hard,” said Packer. “I’m going to keep working hard in this industry and getting in and making my movies until my key stops working in Hollywood. I’m not going to stop anytime soon. As long as I’m allowed to make movies, I’m going to be making them.”
That continues this year with two high-profile releases with the Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish comedy vehicle Night School and the family home invasion thriller Breaking In starring Gabrielle Union. Following a special screening of the James McTeigue-directed film about a mother going through all the stops to rescue her two children being held hostage in a remote, high-tech house designed like a fortress. Okayplayer spoke with Packer about Breaking In adding to his legacy as a Hollywood producer, the shoulders of black filmmakers he stands on and his response for developing a superhero flick.
Okayplayer: Hello, Mr. Packer. It’s an honor to get some time to speak with you today sir.
Will Packer: Thanks for taking the time out to chat my brotha. Did you enjoy the film?
OKP: I actually did. It’s a pretty good escapist home invasion film. Just a fun popcorn flick. After the screening, I remember calling my fiancé and suggesting she take her mom to check it out for Mother’s Day.
WP: And that was the point. I wanted to have something fun. It’s something you can take your mom to or somebody else’s mom too.
OKP: Breaking In is definitely an interesting take on the classic home invasion film genre, especially female-led ones like Panic Room. What exactly attracted you to this project in the first place?
WP: Well, it was actually brought to me as a pitch. A woman named Jaime Primak Sullivan who serves as an executive producer on the film. She had this idea of the home invasion thriller concept and flip it on its head. I thought that was very cool. That was a really good idea. You’ve seen the home invasion movies in the past where the family is trapped in the house trying to get out or they’re trying to keep the bad guys from getting in. In this movie, the fact that you had our heroine Shaun Russell, played by Gabrielle Union, who was the only person considered for this role. She has to get into this highly fortified house in order to save the family. I thought that was a pretty cool idea. It was an interesting twist on a fairly worn genre.
OKP: And there isn’t a male savior in sight throughout the entire film as well.
WP: I’m very proud of my track record with strong black female characters and this is no exception. I didn’t want the woman to have to be the damsel in distress. You know what I mean? I didn’t want the woman to have a man come and save her. I wanted a woman who was a mother and that was enough. I didn’t want a robo-mom or an ex-Navy Seal mom or someone a part of the CIA. I didn’t need all of that. The fact that she’s a mom protecting her family was enough. And that’s what this movie is.
OKP: Obviously the past several years have lead to great gains for blacks within Hollywood from Black Panther’s otherworldly success to last year’s breakout comedy Girls Trip, a film you also produced. Where do you see Breaking In fitting in within that mold of this black film renaissance?
WP: Like you said earlier, it’s a good popcorn flick. I agree. It’s something that’s fun. And, I think that it fits right in with this renaissance that we’re having because it’s another great story centered around a strong black female character.
OKP: It does help that Union’s role as Shaun could theoretically be any ethnicity as race isn’t even an issue throughout the film.
WP: I try to make movies that feel inclusive, not exclusive with a universal appeal. I am proud that I’ve been able to do this in multiple times with my projects. I am somebody who likes to mix things up. In terms of what you’ve typically seen from Hollywood and what I do. Like you said, Gabrielle’s character could be any mom. I wanted a character who was specific yet, didn’t leave the feeling of not knowing the character. I wanted her to fill like a character that you could know.
OKP: Your films also have normally revolved around upper middle class / upper-class people of color and that continues with Breaking In’s central location of this extremely high tech mansion.
WP: I’m always going to do movies where black folks are doing well. We’ve seen enough of poor black folks. I prefer to do middle class and upper-middle-class blacks in my movie. That was something that was very important to me.
OKP: You’re also grooming the future of black Hollywood through Shaun’s children Jasmine and Justin played by Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr.
WP: Those kids are good. They really do their thing in this movie. Listen, I think you have the best actors no matter what. This was not an easy movie for the actors ‘cause it takes place mostly at night and the characters are under stress so it’s challenging. Even with that, you had kid actors who could hold their own with well-established actors.
OKP: With everything happening in regards to black actors and directors, what’s the status of black-led production companies like Will Packer Productions?
WP: We always have more work to do sure, but I like where we have come and where we are going. Anytime we have a Will Packer, Ryan Coogler, Tyler Perry or Ava DuVernay, Anytime you see someone behind the scenes having success, it means that other creators that look like them will have a chance to come in and show their skills or pitch their skills. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It just means somebody who looks like you has had success, Hollywood will go with what works. My success is the success for the black community. That’s my way of paying it forward is to be successful and bring on others through the process. It gives them a chance for their voices to be heard.
OKP: As someone who thoroughly understands the Hollywood system, you know the box-office generating power of superhero flicks. Do you see yourself indulging in the genre yourself?
WP: You damn right! [Laughter]. Give me some of that superhero movie money too. I do have a project I’m very excited about called Warrior Queen. It’s a real-life superhero movie. It’s not about anyone with special powers but a real-life hero who accomplished something that was historic. It’s about Queen Amanirenas who led the Nubians into battle against the Roman Empire. So, that’s my superhero movie.
OKP: This month, we’re all about nostalgia at Okayplayer. Who can you call your biggest inspiration as a film producer of color before you made your leap into filmmaking?
WP: From Spike Lee to John Singleton, there are many. I am who I am because I stand on the shoulders of those who have done what I am attempting to do before me who are creatives of color in this industry before diversity was a buzzword or before there was this renaissance and before it was cool to have black producers and directors. I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of people like that. That’s exactly what I’m doing and hopefully, someone will follow behind me. In regards to film, that’s easy. Boyz In The Hood, Mo’ Betta Blues, Devil In A Blue Dress, Boomerang. Boomerang is one of the biggest comedies at the time staring a primarily African American cast. That was huge and that movie made money around the world. So, there are many.
Breaking In, which stars Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, and Richad Cabral, will hit theaters this weekend on Mother’s Day.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, author and video producer whose work has appeared in everything from Complex to HipHopDX. Follow him on his adventures @UralG.