ST. PETERSBURG — Six years ago, producer Will Packer was among Hollywood luminaries who called out the Oscars for a lack of diversity in their Oscar nominations.
His movie, NWA biopic Straight outta Compton, was among those critics thought had been snubbed. Its only nomination was for Best Original Screenplay.
But this year, Packer – a St. Petersburg native and son of a local civil rights activist – is on the other side of the controversy.
The filmmaker whose billion-dollar production resume also includes Roll, trample the yard and the remake of Rootsproduces the 94th Academy Awards to be held Sunday at 8 p.m.
To shorten the duration of the show, eight of the less glamorous awards will be presented before the live broadcast.
It’s a change that has been rejected by Hollywood giants like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro.
The film academy’s decision overshadowed what might have been a more famous landmark feat in previous years.
Packer leads Oscar’s first-ever all-black production team.
This achievement was not lost on the museum in his hometown.
The Woodson African American Museum of Florida is hosting an Oscars watch party at its Legacy Garden, 2240 Ninth Ave. S in St. Petersburg. Doors open at 7 p.m. The event is hosted by Mayor Ken Welch.
“St. Petersburg is proud of Will Packer’s success in the film and entertainment industry, and thrilled to have him make history as part of the first all-black production team for the Oscars,” Welch said in a prepared statement “He sets an example for children and young adults everywhere that through hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved.”
Despite his busy schedule in the days leading up to the Oscars, via email, Packer agreed to respond Tampa Bay Weather questions about his historic night:
What is your reaction when the Woodson African American Museum in Florida organizes a watchmaking evening in your honor?
Incredible! As a young man who grew up in South St. Pete, it’s the icing on the cake of the already immense honor of producing the Oscars. That St. Pete’s first black mayor is hosting an Oscar watch party the year of Oscar’s first all-black production team, whose leader was born and raised in the Bay Area, seems incredibly fortuitous. I just wish I could be there. Lol.
I read that you had been asked in previous years to produce the Oscars, but that you had turned down the offer. Why did you agree to do it this year?
I finally realized that, however busy I am, there would never be a “perfect” moment and there is a growth in discomfort. I felt like this year there was an opportunity to really make my mark and make my presence felt on an iconic show.
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A few years ago, you denounced the lack of diversity at the Oscars. Now you lead an all-black production team. Yet, it feels like this moment is overshadowed by other issues. Should your team be getting more attention?
I am someone who always believes “I can show you better than I can tell you.” I’m proud that ours is the first all-black team, but I don’t feel the need to overstate it. I prefer to show the world what we can do and then, after the fact, we can talk about the quality of the result that this particular team produced. There is no doubt that our skills and perspectives allow us to create a show that will be different from that of our predecessors. Representation, inclusion, diversity, it all counts. The right people see what we do and take notice. But I prefer to revel in the results afterwards.
Is this year a sign that the issue of diversity is improving?
It’s definitely improved and having someone like me leading Hollywood’s biggest late-night shows. But make no mistake, as an industry we were so far behind that we still have a long way to go.
Your late father, William Packer Sr., was a civil rights leader in this area. He was the first black student to graduate from the University of South Florida School of Engineering and later served as chairman of the St. Petersburg Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission. What did he give you?
One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “Pay now and play later or play now and pay later.” It’s up to you.” I’ve honed my work ethic over the years based on that mantra. And I’ve seen him live his life that way. He put in the work and enjoyed the I like to think that by grinding as hard as I do, I’m honoring his legacy.
What did your father have to overcome?
Here’s the thing about being the “FIRST”, it sounds great later after you accomplish it. But while you’re the first, it can be lonely, stressful, and even dangerous. I have seen my father face life’s challenges with a head held high and tremendous self-confidence. And then I saw him pay this to future generations for which he paved the way. This approach is exactly how I try to live my life and run my career.
If you are going to
Or: The Woodson African American Museum of Florida’s Legacy Garden, 2240 Ninth Ave. S, St. Petersburg
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Details: Mayor Ken Welch will deliver remarks before the awards at 7:45 p.m. The awards broadcast begins at 8 p.m. on ABC.