Ahead of Girls Trip‘s July 21 wide release, Universal world premiered its female-led comedy last night to open the American Black Film Festival in Miami. The pic stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish as lifelong friends who travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. There, sisterhoods are rekindled; wild sides are rediscovered; and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.
On Thursday, during a panel discussion to dissect the film, producer Will Packer, who was joined onstage by director Malcolm D. Lee and Hall, told the audience he originally pitched the film in the vain The Hangovers and Bridesmaids but with brown girls, which hooked Lee right away.
Said Lee: “What an opportunity to deliver something to an underrepresented audience and what better place to set it than Essence, the only festival in the world that celebrates black women.”
“Setting it at Essence was huge,” Lee later told Deadline, regarding the effort to depict black woman in a way that hasn’t been done. “In thinking about what the movie was going to to entail, I saw so many different black women from all different walks in life… I felt like that’s a great thing to put on film.”
Hall echoed similar sentiments. “What’s so great is that you have four women but we’re all speckled with different aspects and variations,” she said. “It’s nice for us to see ourselves in so many different facets of what it is to be human, what it is to be a woman, and what it is to be a black woman.”
“There’s a complexity to the imagery of black women,” Packer chimed in. “What happens is if you don’t have a lot of images, then the few that you have have to represent the whole of what black women are.” He added that “black women, historically in media, have been either over-sexualized, hyper-angry, or super-saintly. Those aren’t real people, those are caricatures. The opportunity to show real people played brilliantly the cast was important.”
During the panel, Packer divulged the studio had initial concerns about the project. “The conversations was, ‘Can we do like two black women, and a white woman and a Latina?’ We had a lot of those,” he said. He said, “You don’t see crews of two black women and two white woment hanging at Essence; if we’re going to make this, we’re going to make this right. We’re going to be true to what this really is. There’s no other way we would’ve made it.”
The film was shot in conjunction with the actual festival, which, the filmmakers said, came with its share of logistical and budgetary hardships. “You always want more resources and that’s just a challenge that we all face as filmmakers,” Packer said. “When I go in and pitch my movies and [the studio] is determining what kind of budget to give me, they do profit projections of what they think the film can make.
“Often times my profit [projections] are a lot lower than my peers that don’t look like me,” he said. “They have money that they’re going to make” overseas, and “my numbers are always zero in those markets. What it means it that we have to be creative and we have to overcome those challenges and figure out how we can still deliver a great film.”
Another concern with a film like this is its ability to cross over. “Black women can open this movie by themselves,” Lee asserted. “If other people come, great, if they don’t, alright… we made a really fun funny movie that relatable across the board. We could not be more universal with our story.”
For Packer, the film’s success goes beyond monetary rewards. “[The film] is really a testament to the power of black girl magic,” he said. We “put four women at the forefront, they are the stars of this movie and are African American females… I so badly want this film to work because I want Hollywood and the world to see the what black women can do.”