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Will Packer on the importance of Black people telling their own stories and his legacy in Black film

For Black History Month, REVOLT spoke to famed producer Will Packer about his love for film, Black stories being told by Black people, and more. Read here.

Will Packer

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Famed producer Will Packer is the driving force behind some of our most beloved 21st century films that have collectively grossed over $1 billion worldwide. With 10 movies starting strong in the number one spot including Stomp The Yard, Takers, Girls Trip and the movie adaptation of Steve Harvey’s bestselling book Think Like A Man, Packer has created a lasting impact in the world of entertainment.

“When it comes to stories around Black lives, Black culture, Black themes and Black people, we still have so many stories that haven’t been told. That’s of supreme interest to me,” the trailblazer told REVOLT in our exclusive chat.

In an industry that is largely powered by white male executives, his Will Packer Productions empire is changing the narrative of Black stories with his work in Hollywood. We spoke with the creative about the rise of Atlanta as the mecca of Black entertainment, what sparked his love for film, and the cultural relevance of Black-owned production companies. Check out our conversation below!

When did you know that producing Black stories was your passion?

Early, when I was at Florida A&M [University]. It was the first movie that I made called Chocolate City and I produced that along with Rob Hardy, who directed it, and honestly a group of HBCU students who were hungry and ambitious. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, so we didn’t necessarily know what we were doing, but we just knew that we wanted to tell a story about our lives as we knew it. We released that film, independently of course, right there in Tallahassee and the response was amazing. I realized that in this instance, these college students have not seen themselves nearly enough as they had an appetite to see themselves. I realized that I, as somebody who has always been attracted to the business side of our industry, had an opportunity to tell stories and actually have audiences respond if you were filling a gap, a need or telling stories where there is a lack of telling stories in that area.

Even now where we have a lot more stories around Black people, Black culture, Black themes being told, we still don’t have nearly enough because when you look at mainstream stories, they’ve been told for years. For generations, they’ve been told over and over again, and in every which way. We don’t have that yet. I want to be remembered for telling our stories and hopefully telling them well. The other side of it is the fact that there’s an opportunity that others are not taking and Hollywood, at large, has passed by and not taken advantage of telling those stories. I want to be that guy.

Originally from Tallahassee, you were torn between moving to Hollywood or NYC, but you chose Atlanta. What was the significance behind that choice?

Choosing Atlanta was one of the best decisions I could’ve made for my career. I still live in Atlanta, it’s an amazing market where you see Black folks in power, Black folks in positions where they can help other Black people and they can empower whole communities. I’m talking about the mayor, chief of police, city council — all of these are Black people. I chose Atlanta because I feel like Will Packer would just be another aspiring film producer in Los Angeles or New York. In Atlanta, which already had a thriving entertainment base primarily driven by music at that time, it felt like a new opportunity.

It felt like I could be a voice that would stand out in a market like Atlanta and I found that to be true. Honestly, I still find it to be true even though so much now has shifted to Atlanta. So much of the work that Hollywood has migrated to Atlanta. I still find my voice standing out here in a way that it wouldn’t in the same way in the Los Angeles market. That’s nothing against my Los Angeles folks that work in directing and Hollywood, but I like being around people that aren’t in the industry. Those perspectives help me to craft the stories that I want to tell.

What’s the importance of Black-led production companies, and why is it so important for Black creatives to have ownership over their work?

Oh my God, that’s where the power is. Ultimately, that’s what we’ve been shut out of generationally is the ability to own our work, our voices and the ability to tell our stories. We have worked throughout the years in front of the camera, but in terms of power positions behind the camera, we — in large — have not benefited from the same way as our white counterparts. That’s something that I am working very hard to do my part to reverse that trend. To have more of us in positions of power, to have the power that I have, to hire folks like Felischa Marye and other folks that either run shows for me, direct or write movies for me. You can’t overstate the value of having the ability to hire people to decide which projects get made and don’t get made. People like me have not been in that position historically. I, along with others, are working to change that.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I don’t know that you get to define your own legacy. I think other people define it for you. But, I think you can just put the work in, do it in the right way and hope that it’s recognized and that you leave something behind for the people that come after you. I hope that my legacy is as somebody who told stories about folks that happen to be Black in an authentic way and brought on a host of other people to help them tell their stories. I hope my legacy is as somebody who used his position in this industry not just to make movies or TV shows that I wanted to make, not just to enrich myself, but also to bring along others who would not have had the opportunity were it not for Will Packer.

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