Will Packer: “This idea of a Black father and Black daughters at the centre of the movie Beast is one that we don’t see often enough in a movie like this.”
In our exclusive interview, producer Will Packer talks about his latest movie Beast; why he chose to cast a Black family at the centre of the survival thriller and gives insight into the deeper messages of who the true beast in the film is.
Man vs beast stories have been captivating audiences from the times of Greek myths to movies like Jaws, Jurassic Park and Stephen King’s Cujo. When executive producer Jaime Primak Sullivan contacted producer Will Packer with the idea of a survival film with a lion Packer said yes straight away.
“I thought it was such a fascinating idea. We had to figure out what the story was going to be, who the characters were, how we were going to make it all meld together, but the idea of a lion and a survival thriller got my juices flowing,” says Packer.
The idea was enough to pull Packer in but it was something else that held his attention. “I also thought that this movie had something to say beyond just that. I love this idea of the fact that the beast is not just the lion in the movie, the beast is also man,” says Packer.” “A man creates this Lion. We have a lion whose whole family is wiped out by poachers, and he then realises that man is the true enemy.”
The film evolved into a high-stakes, high-action thriller of a father fighting to protect his family who are in an emotionally difficult situation. Packer explains: “It’s a family that is already in peril before they ever step foot on the continent of Africa. They are a father and two daughters undergoing a transformation of their own after the matriarch has died of cancer. You have a family in pain going through something unimaginable—and this unlikely conflation of circumstances has put them in the path of this lion.”
“This idea of a Black father and Black daughters at the centre of the movie, we don’t often see that in a movie like this.”
The family in this epic movie are headed by Idris Elba who plays Dr Nate Samuels. “This idea of a Black father and Black daughters at the centre of the movie, we don’t often see that in a movie like this. It’s not a movie that’s just for Black fathers or Black people, it’s an inclusive movie with universal and relatable themes,” says Packer who made a conscious decision to cast Black actors and actresses. “I make no bones about the fact that I try to do that with my movies. It is to present images that we don’t see often.”
Talking about why he chose dark-skinned Black actresses Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries to play the daughters, Packer broke it down. “First of all, we were going to be real, I’m doing this movie, so we are not about to have Idris and we got daughters that aren’t representative of him. He’s an amazing, beautiful dark skinned brother and his wife in the film is also dark-skinned so we wanted some brown girls.”
“He’s an amazing, beautiful dark skinned brother and his wife in the film is also dark-skinned so we wanted some brown girls.”
For people following Packer’s career, this should not be a surprise and he reminded Melan Magazine of that fact. “If you look at my movies, I’ve always got brown girls in my movies, my mum is a dark-skinned sister, and my daughters are brown sisters. We don’t see enough of that. That image of beauty is not what’s seen in the past on big Hollywood productions.” Hearing him talk about his own family is another reminder, that this entire film is about family.
During script development, the team depicted the life-and-death battles that lions themselves face from poachers and included that narrative into the script. “On the human front, you think of folks who are trapped in an impossible situation, fighting for their lives, doing anything they can to survive this threat,” Packer says.
Packer continues to explain that it is also a self-preservation examination of the lion. “When hunters forcefully separate out alpha lions by killing other members of their pack, they create rogue lions. So, this film is also an examination of what happens when a rogue lion discovers who the real enemy is: humans.” This may sound like an extreme example but in real life, this happens causing disruption of the family unit and the ecosystem.
“His daughters blame him, he blames himself. It’s manifesting itself in the dreams he is having.”
Nate’s character can see this fate looming for him if he does not protect his family and he is seen in the film having dreams of his wife in an African village in traditional dress. Packer told Melan Magazine that Nate had an open-ended thread with his wife, “It wasn’t closed. He feels very guilty about the fact he wasn’t there when she died. His daughters blame him, he blames himself. It’s manifesting itself in the dreams he is having.”
“It’s a way for him to get closure because he wasn’t able to protect his wife from a beast if you will, which is cancer. And he is not going to allow another beast, in this case, the lion, to take his daughters. This is basically all he has left in terms of his family that means so much to him,” says Packer.
It’s clear from Packer’s perspective that this film is circular. The lion is the family’s beast and man is the lion’s beast. What’s more, there are many other beasts in the film. The beast of cancer, the beast of guilt, the beast of grief. To him, the film is so much more than a man vs beast survival thriller that allows for escapism and edge of your seat thrill rides.