Will Packer Named 1st-Ever Grand Jury President for 25th Anniversary of the American Black Film Festival

Will Packer speaks onstage during Discovery, Inc. TCA Winter Panel 2020 on January 16, 2020.
Will Packer speaks onstage during Discovery, Inc. TCA Winter Panel 2020 on January 16, 2020.
Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Discovery, Inc. (Getty Images)

If you’re a Black person entrenched in the film industry in any capacity and have been to the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), you know just how special the sense of community is in comparison to more mainstream (white) festivals. Unfortunately, due to the rise of the global pandemic in 2020, patrons weren’t able to partake in the Blackest films and party it up in all-white in Miami like usual.


This year, however, will be different...and special. ABFF is celebrating its 25th anniversary and there’s a lot to celebrate. For one, the Black-ass festival is returning with a new festival format, “a hybrid event, with live events in Miami Beach, November 3-7, followed by a week of virtual events on abffplay.com November 8-14.” That’s pretty damn well-rounded—a best of both worlds.

Also, ABFF announced on Tuesday that it has named its first-ever Grand Jury President for the 2021 rendition of the festival and it is none other than super-producer and businessman Will Packer (Girls Trip, The Photograph)! Packer, who got his start at the festival in 1999 with the premiere of his feature film Trois, will reportedly “help the festival expand its Jury and curate a diverse slate of film and television content” in his new role.

“ABFF is one of the single most instrumental institutions in my career. This is more than just a festival for me. [Its] very existence guarantees there will be more Will Packers making movies from a unique perspective and telling the stories of underserved audiences,” Packer said in a statement.

“We are thrilled to have our dear friend Will serve as this year’s ABFF Jury President. His relationship with the ABFF family spans more than 20 years and his path to success embodies the festival’s mission—empowering Black creatives to thrive in Hollywood,” ABFF Ventures Founder and CEO Jeff Friday added in a statement.

Here’s a breakdown of the categories up for submission in this year’s festival, via the press release sent to The Root:


HBO Short Film Competition – A competitive section for narrative shorts directed by or produced and written by persons of African descent. Now in its 24th year, the HBO Short Film Competition is regarded as one of the most prestigious short film showcases in the country. Prior winners of this award include Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Judas and Black Messiah) and Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II, Transformers).

Narrative Features (US and International) – A competitive section for feature-length films directed by or written by and produced by persons of African descent.

Documentary Features (US and International) – A competitive section for nonfiction feature films directed by persons of African descent.

Web Series – A competitive section for short-form episodic television series directed by or produced and written by persons of African descent. World premieres selected to this section.


World Showcase – A non-competitive section showcasing feature and short films made by and about people of African descent, with projects that fall outside of the eligibility criteria of the festival’s competitive sections.

ABFF Pride – A showcase of films that represent queer culture and reflect the LGBTQIA experience.


Additionally, ABFF recently announced its spinoff, the ABFF Comedy Festival, which “will stream live and pre-recorded content on the ABFF Play streaming service June 2-6.” Kenya Barris (Black-ish, #BlackAF) will serve as the year’s Event Ambassador.

“I’m thrilled to be partnering with American Black Film Festival on their very first ABFF Comedy Festival,” Barris said in a statement. “Jeff and [his wife] Nicole have built a long legacy of identifying new Black talent over the past 25 years, and as someone who shares their passion for championing and amplifying Black and Brown voices, I am excited to see them expand the ABFF imprint in this way. To be a part of something that will provide greater exposure, access, and opportunities to these comedians and comedy writers while also giving our community a reason to laugh together....this was a no-brainer and I’m honored to lend my support.”


For complete submission eligibility requirements and more information about the American Black Film Festival, please head to abff.com.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.