Hollywood producer Will Packer and director Malcolm D. Lee are no strangers to the American Black Film Festival. Packer, whose numerous film credits include the “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” franchises, credits ABFF for his start. Back in the summer of 2013, Lee, along with Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut and Nia Long, made a special trip to discuss “Best Man Holiday” with ABFF attendees despite only beginning principal photography on the film that spring.
Since 1997, when it was envisioned as the “Black” answer to Sundance and initially held in Mexico where it was known as the Acapulco Black Film Festival, ABFF has provided an empowering and nurturing environment for Black film, serving those behind and in front of the camera, as well as those who are just film lovers. In light of its mission, ABFF has become a prime festival to premiere any film or television showcasing Black talent. And for this year’s festival in South Beach Miami, where it has largely been held since relocating there in 2002, it was rewarded with a first look at “Girls Trip” from Packer and Lee, who respectively produced and directed the film. So, in advance of its July 21 release date, “Girls Trip,” starring “Best Man” alum Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and relative newcomer Tiffany Haddish, officially kicked off ABFF June 14.
Tagged as the Black counterpart to such popular comedies as “Bridesmaids” and “The Hangover,” “Girls Trip,” which was filmed in New Orleans at Essence Festival last year, didn’t disappoint, leaving some attendees doubled over in laughter. Others also lusted over Kofi Siriboe and Larenz Tate, who are in the film. The next day, Packer, Lee and Hall, whose character Ryan anchors the film, sat down with Essence entertainment director Cori Murray to discuss the genesis of the film as well as break down specific scenes.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Murray told the crowd before bringing Packer, Lee and Hall, who also served as this year’s ABFF celebrity ambassador, to the stage for the ABFF First Look Panel: “Girls Trip”—The Anatomy of a Scene. “I feel like I owe Malcolm Lee my check because he made Essence Festival look like the most lit festival in the world.”
For over an hour, Packer, Lee and Hall discussed how and why the film came to be, why it was finally time for Hall to lead a film, the logistics of filming at Essence and more. Packer, who met his wife during Essence and proposed to her on the main stage in 2013, says he originally asked Hall, who was starring in his film “About Last Night,” during a flight, “What do you think about a movie with sisters that go to Essence and they behave badly? They have fun. They do everything you usually see the white guys do in the movies and they get away with it, but, this time, it’s brown girls and they get away with it!”
Hall loved it and so did Lee. “What better place than to set it at Essence, the only festival in the world that celebrates Black women in the way it does?” Lee asked the audience.
“It was a great work experience. They are great women,” Hall said of her castmates. “That affection for them and for each other is very real. … I felt like I was on a girls trip.”
“This is really a testament to the power of Black girl magic,” Packer told the crowd. “I so badly, so badly, want this film to work because I want Hollywood and the world to see the power of what that looks like.”