A Conversation with Debra Lee and Will Packer
6:15 – 8:00 PM
Chairman & CEO, BET Networks
Debra L. Lee is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Black Entertainment Television (BET) Networks, a unit of Viacom Inc. and the leading provider of entertainment for the African-American audience and consumers of Black culture globally. Ms. Lee oversees one of the most influential multiplatform media companies in the world, including several cable television networks and digital offerings. BET Networks is committed to providing its audience with quality entertainment that speaks to where they are in their lives and where they want to go. Under her leadership, Ms. Lee has led the company’s successful reinvigorated brand and successful programming vision that has created hits such as The New Edition Story, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Being Mary Jane, The BET Awards, Black Girls Rock!,
BET Honors and many more. Ms. Lee’s vision for BET’s reinvigorated approach is built on supporting families, embracing and encouraging their dreams, and focusing on the issues that are important to them.
In September 2009, Ms. Lee managed the launch of Centric, a 24-hour music and entertainment network. Under her leadership, Centric was rebranded in 2014 as the first network designed for Black women. She also oversees the company’s current growth initiatives, including international distribution of the brand in Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, France, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to her being named Chairman and CEO, Ms. Lee was President and Chief Operating Officer of BET Networks for almost 10 years, during which she guided the company to consistent increases in viewership, revenue and earnings. She first joined BET as Vice President and General Counsel in 1986 after serving more than five years as an attorney with Washington, D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson, a corporate law firm. Prior to that, she served as a law clerk to the late Honorable Barrington Parker of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment, Ms. Lee’s achievements in a 25-plus year career at BET Networks have earned her numerous accolades from across the cable industry, as well as recognition as one of this country’s most respected business executives. Ms. Lee was honored with the Distinguished Leadership Vanguard Award by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. Most recently, Ms. Lee was celebrated as an Icon at the 2017 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons for her major contributions to American music and culture through BET. This distinguished honor was presented by Clive Davis and The Recording Academy. She is the first woman to receive this honor.
Ms. Lee also serves on the corporate board of directors for Marriott International, Twitter and Washington Gas & Light. Her business acumen and strategic approach to management make Ms. Lee a popular speaker and lecturer on a range of business topics. Affiliated with a number of professional, civic and cultural organizations, she serves as the President of the Board of Trustees for The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation and is a member of the Board of Trustees for The American Film Institute, Brown University’s Center for Slavery & Justice, The Paley Center for Media, and The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
She was appointed by President Obama to the White House Management Advisory Board and is a member emeritus of the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors for former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Ms. Lee earned her juris doctorate at Harvard Law School, while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. She graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in Asian politics. In 2014 she was awarded with a Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) from Brown University.
Executive Producer, "Being Mary Jane"
Emmy® nominated Producer Will Packer has established himself as one of Hollywood’s blockbuster hit makers with eight of his films opening number one at the box office. In 2013, Packer signed first-‐look production deals with Universal Pictures and Universal Television. Under both deals, he develops new projects for the studios under his Will Packer Productions banner. Packer’s number one films include Ride Along 2 (2016), No Good Deed (2014), Think Like A Man Too (2014), Ride Along (2014), Think Like A Man (2012), Takers (2010), Obsessed (2008) and Stomp The Yard (2007).
Packer’s latest number one film, Ride Along 2, debuted in theaters on January 15, 2016 unseating Star Wars: The Force Awakens from the number one slot. In August 2015, he served as an executive producer on Straight Outta Compton, a biopic of the rap group N.W.A, that opened number one at the box office, grossed an astounding $201 million, became the biggest ever August debut for an R-‐rated movie and the best opening weekend for a music biopic—EVER. Up next is Girl Trip, starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish, that will hit theaters nationwide on July 21, 2017.
His most successful film to date is Universal’s Ride Along, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, that opened number one at the box office in 2014 with record-‐breaking receipts totaling $48.6 million during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend opening of the film, making it one of the biggest January opening box office tallies of all time. The film also went on to be number one at the box office for three consecutive weeks and grossed over $154 million worldwide. Think Like A Man, the film adaptation of Steve Harvey’s bestselling book, ‘Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man’ grossed over $96 million worldwide and won the 2013 BET Award for Best Movie. Stomp The Yard held at number one for two weekends and received the 2007 Movie of the Year honors from the BET Hip Hop Awards while Obsessed, featuring mega-‐star Beyoncé, was Screen Gems’ third highest opening in company history when it debuted. Packer also enjoyed the success of his holiday film This Christmas (2007) which grossed nearly $50 million worldwide as well as About Last Night (2014) that hit theaters during Valentine’s Day weekend and opened as the #1 romantic comedy in America. His film The Wedding Ringer, starring Hart and Josh Gad, holds the world record as the number one R-‐rated comedy opening in January. Most recently, his second holiday film; Almost Christmas, opened as the #1 comedy in America. Collectively, Will Packer’s films have grossed over $900 million.
On the television side, Packer was an executive producer on “Roots”, the Emmy®-‐nominated remake of one of the most celebrated TV programs of all time that aired as an event series simultaneously on The History Channel, A&E and Lifetime networks on Memorial Day 2016. Also making a foray into prime time TV, Packer was the executive producer of two comedies, “Truth Be Told” (NBC) that aired in 2015 and “Uncle Buck” (ABC) that aired in 2016. Packer is also an executive producer on the hit TV series “Being Mary Jane” (BET) that stars Gabrielle Union. In 2012, Packer was inducted as a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the organization known around the world for its annual Academy Awards, now officially known as The Oscars. As part of the Academy Conversations series, the organization presented a conversation with Packer at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. This marked the first time the Academy participated in a program at the renowned festival. Packer has been featured on the cover of Black Enterprise and Essence magazines and acknowledged on several high profile magazine lists including Variety’s 10 Producers To Watch, Black Enterprise’s Most Powerful Players Under 40 and 10 Most Bankable Producers In Hollywood, Jet’s Who’s Hot To Watch and Ebony’s prestigious Power 100 list.
As Producer and Founder of the Los Angeles based production company, Will Packer Productions, Packer oversees all aspects of the business. Prior to launching his own company in 2013, he co-‐founded Rainforest Films with director Rob Hardy in the summer of 1994 while both were engineering students at Florida A & M University. After graduating magna cum laude from Florida A&M University (FAMU) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1996, Packer decided to forego lucrative job offers in the field of engineering to capitalize on his entrepreneurial instincts and his passion for filmmaking.
A dynamic and inspiring speaker, Packer delivers educational and motivational speeches to film industry groups, colleges and universities (including Harvard University), as well as youth and community organizations nationwide. He has been honored with the key to the city of his hometown, St. Petersburg, FL as well as Miami, FL; and “Will Packer Day” has been proclaimed in Chattanooga, TN and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Packer has also been honored with the Meritorious Achievement Award from his alma mater, FAMU. It is the highest honor the University bestows. Packer resides in Atlanta with his wife Heather and his family.
Moderated By: Robin Thede, Host, “The Rundown"
Creator/Executive Producer and host of The Rundown with Robin Thede on BET, Robin is a breakthrough talent in late night comedy, both in front of and behind the camera. Previously, she was a writer/performer on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central, where she also served as head writer for the first season and a half. She was also head writer for the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner and head writer on The Queen Latifah Show. Robin has also written for several sitcoms, sketch shows and dozens of comedians from Chris Rock to Kevin Hart. Her numerous TV and film appearances include Full Frontal with Sam Bee, Difficult People, Key & Peele, A Haunted House and many more.
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