'Mary Poppins Returns,' 'BlacKkKlansman' Producers on Their Movies' Appeal in Trump Era

BlacKkKlansman Still 5 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Focus Features

The filmmakers were joined by producers and actors from 'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'Roma' for a panel discussion at the Producers Guild of America's Produced By: New York conference this weekend.

Late-summer hits Crazy Rich Asians and BlacKkKlansman may not seem to have much in common with highly anticipated year-end films Mary Poppins Returns and Roma, but all four movies reflect current political and social issues, ranging from inclusive storytelling to racism to hope (or a lack thereof). 

During a panel discussion at the Producers Guild of America's Produced By: New York conference on Saturday, producers, writers and actors from those titles talked about their films' timeliness, with the teams behind BlacKkKlansman and Mary Poppins Returns saying their films speak to the "scary," "cynical" atmosphere America is currently in.

BlacKkKlansman explores present-day racial issues through its real-life tale of an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. The movie not only has echoes of modern racial tensions, but the connections are made more explicit with closing footage of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally and President Trump's infamous "very fine people on both sides" press conference. Just weeks ago, the president proudly identified himself as a "nationalist," denying the word's racial undertones

"This is a really historic time. I think we are living in a moment that is not an ordinary time," BlacKkKlansman writer Kevin Willmott said Saturday. "It's a time that people will look back and they'll say, 'Wow, that's when it happened. That was when it was either going to go to hell or it was going to come back.' And this is a critical time, I think, in the history of the country, and I'm just pleased that we were able to make a film that reflected what happened in the country. You've got a nationalist as the leader of the United States, and he's demonized whole groups of people every day. And this is not normal. And it's a scary time." 

Willmott continued, "That kind of hate has become a part of the mainstream, and it's in the White House right now.… I think if we had tried to write this and said, this is what's happening, people would be all, 'What? Are you kidding? This is crazy. You can't expect us to buy this crap.' And it's happened."

Producer Jason Blum had a more succinct expression of BlacKkKlansman's message: "Racism is stupid. People who are racist are stupid, and people in the Ku Klux Klan are stupid racists."

As for Mary Poppins Returns, director and producer Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt highlighted their film's message of hope in a dark time. 

"This is what the world needs right now, in its fragility," Blunt said. "It's a world right now where you feel the acrimony, the bitterness, and here's an opportunity for hope to literally reappear from the skies in the form of this rather bizarre, eccentric superhero."

She later added of the role, which she called "the most delicious character" she'd ever played, "What I love about her and what she is in this movie is, she is a woman who can get things done, and she brings order to chaos."

Blunt continued, "In order for her to fly — it's a P.L. Travers quote, she says, 'In order to fly, you need something solid to take off from.' And that's the character. She comes in and mends the cracks in people so that they can fly again, so that they can rediscover something about themselves. And I think we are in a world right now that's a very cynical time, and people are becoming more and more self-serving and self-protected…. It's a divisive time. And so here's a film, potentially, that could be a great unifier at Christmas. That sounds rather nice."