The Frame

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'Girls Trip' producer Will Packer explains how his alt-history series will differ from 'Confederate'

by Monica Bushman | The Frame

Producer Will Packer (R) with the cast of "Girls Trip." Facebook / Will Packer

Fresh off the massive success of the movie “Girls Trip,” producer Will Packer already has lots of different projects in the works.

He’s in pre-production on a movie called “Night School” starring Kevin Hart and making a movie called “Breaking In” with Gabrielle Union, but it’s an upcoming TV project that’s probably generating the most conversation.

“Black America," a series Packer is developing for Amazon with "The Boondocks" creator Aaron MacGruder, imagines what would happen if former slaves formed their own country from three Southern states handed over to them as reparations for slavery.

The show has drawn comparisons to HBO’s proposed series "Confederate," from the David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the white showrunners of “Game of Thrones.” HBO has said that “Confederate” will explore what America might look like today if the South had won the Civil War and slavery was still legal. It's a kind of story that Will Packer says he isn't interested in telling:

For me, I choose not to be a part of a project that looks at the potential of contemporary slavery as a form of entertainment. I was a part of [the 2016 remake of] 'Roots,' I am a part of 'Black America,' those are very different approaches to that subject matter and to that time period. I think that I personally have a responsibility to make sure that I am not deepening the wounds, the still festering wounds and scars that have been left by a great many people in this country, from the time period of slavery, the manifestations of which we still the effects of today.

Packer spoke with The Frame's John Horn about his plans for "Black America," the success of "Girls Trip," and how he sees the role of content creators in this incredibly polarized time.

Interview highlights:

On his Amazon series "Black America":

"Black America" is really exciting. It is also very scary. It's a project that is provocative and is edgy and has to be done right. It is an alternate history television series that imagines what would happen in a post-Civil War world where the former slaves were given reparations and used them to form a separate and sovereign union... So it's a really interesting question that's asked because that is such a sensitive time period and because, you know, slavery is something that we still see the manifestations of today. So you have to be very careful and responsible about how you approach it. 

On his reaction to the story that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are telling "Confederate":

Out of respect for the creators [of "Confederate"], I will wait and see ultimately what that series turns out to be. I can only speak for the type of content that I choose to be a part of and I will say that much has been made of the fact that the creators, or at least a significant part of the creative team behind that show are white males. And I will say that I don't think it's about can an artist create content around a culture or a demographic or ethnicity that they're not a part of. I don't think the question is "can." I think the question is "should." Should they? And that's something that each individual artist has to decide on their own. And so that's a decision for them to make and I wouldn't speak on, you know, whether or not they should.

On HBO's role in deciding to move forward with "Confederate":

You have to be very careful about how you do "alternative history" around such a sensitive subject matter. And again it's not about "can you"— this is not about censorship— it's about "should you" and do you have a responsibility to that audience. And it's less about the creator and more about the financier and the distributor who, at the end of the day, makes a lot of content for a large portion of the audience that would find the revisitation of that time in that way very, very painful. So I think you have to have the distributor ask the question Should we be a part of putting this out there and giving it a platform?

On whether the lesson of "Girls Trip" is that diverse casting makes a movie more successful:

If you make content that audiences can relate to, and a broad audience can relate to, they will come. Audiences do not segregate themselves in terms of the way that they are consuming content as they have in the past, meaning that "Girls Trip" has four African American female women in the lead, but to do the numbers that we're doing, it is evident, and the exit polling supports this as well, that non-African American and even non-women are going to see that film and are giving it high marks. And so the enjoyment of that content is not solely driven by the fact that "I see myself in those characters" for non-minorities. Now for minorities who have not traditionally seen themselves in the content that Hollywood has created, there is a final exhaling. There is a Boy is this a breath of fresh air to finally see myself represented on-screen.

On the role of entertainment in this polarizing time in American history:

I'm optimistic about where we're going to go as a country. I think that there will be content that will come out of this time, out of this era, that we will look back and we will say, Yeah that was from that particular time period. We'll have to figure out what it's going to be called but I think you have people like myself that are trying to make sure that we're telling authentic stories and stories that are organic to a particular experience within this country, whatever that is, whomever you may be— black, white, you know, gay straight, it doesn't matter. I think you have people like myself that even more so are trying to make sure that we get the stories right and that we're doing a great job in being very specific and very authentic in showing the American experience. 

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