Atlanta-based producer Will Packer’s ‘Girls Trip’ the ‘surprise’ hit of summer

ATLANTA, GA – JULY 11: (L-R) Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Packer, Regina Hall at “Girls Trip” Atlanta special screening at SCADshow on July 11, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Universal Pictures)

It was a great weekend for Atlanta-based filmmaker Will Packer.

The 43-year-old producer watched his 27th feature film, Girls Trip shoot to the top of the heap at the box office and become the “surprise” hit of the summer.

The film, a comedy about a group of friends from a historically black college who reunite for a wild romp at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, more than doubled its low box office expectations.

Read more: ‘Girls Trip’ is raunchy yet refreshingly fun

At 30.4 million, the film took second place after the World War II epic Dunkirk, and managed to break the low returns curse of every other R-rated comedy released this year including  Baywatch, Snatched, and the somewhat similar Rough Night, a female-directed dark comedy about a bachelorette party gone wrong.

The movie stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and breakout star Tiffany Haddish, as college friend from Florida A & M University (Packer’s alma mater) who get together for a visit to the Essence Music Festival, an event of music and more held each year in New Orleans and sponsored by the magazine of the same name. Almost immediately, high jinks ensue fueled by drinking, drugs and repressed sexuality.

That Girls Trip became a box office smash may have come as a surprise to industry experts — who have a history of undervaluing movies with a predominantly African-American cast — but for Packer, it was mostly business as usual.

His career has been defined by making mid-budget films with black characters that become box-office hits such as Think Like A Man based on Steve Harvey’s book of the same name and the Ride Along films, which feature comedian Kevin Hart.

Packer, who travels between L.A. and Atlanta to work and live, said he is always amused by headlines about his films.

“I have a lot of articles and clippings of my movies that opened at number one, and the headline is always very similar: “Insert-Film-Here Surprises at No. 1, Comes Out of Nowhere!” I get a kick out of it, but it really is time people realize that good content is good content, and an audience is an audience,” he said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

So how did Girls Trip manage to do what no other R-rated comedy has been able to do?

It helped that the film had an enthusiastic reception from an underserved group. Women of color across the country turned out in droves to see the movie on opening weekend.

According to industry estimates, almost 60 percent of the audience for Girls Trip were African-American, but Packer noted in his interview with the Hollywood Reporter that non-black audiences are increasingly less averse to seeing films with black characters in lead roles.

The next frontier he said, is getting international distribution for films with African-American actors.

Girls Trip will be released in the UK on July 26.

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