Historic Movie Studio Opens in Lansing With Promise of Inclusion
Early last week I was browsing through Tiktok and procrastinating on my daily tasks, as per usual, when I saw a video for a soon-to-be-opened television and movie studio in Lansing.
As a theater major and someone who participated in many student films when I was younger, this caught my attention. Not only because of the opportunity that this studio will bring to local creatives but because Greenwood District Studios is Michigan's first Black-owned T.V. and movie studio.
I reached out with a few questions and Greenwood District Studios, graciously, took the time to respond. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Michelle, Greenwood's Media Relations Manager and Amaru, the man behind the opening of the studio.
When asked what inspired the opening of Greenwood District Studios Amaru said it was out of necessity. The pandemic wiped out a lot of jobs and careers including Amaru's, who has been a professional comedian for 22 years. Then, the murder of George Floyd sent the nation into turmoil. That left Amaru with a need and desire to do something. Instead of focusing on the hopelessness of circumstances, Amaru (who is also an independent film maker) gathered a few of his fellow colleagues to create new opportunities for the underserved and underrepresented communities in the area.
When will the studios open?
The opening of Greenwood Studios will be done in phases. But, don't worry. You can still get the full tour on Greenwood District Studios' Tiktok:
As mentioned above, the opening will be conducted in phases. Five phases to be exact. It started with the renovation of the old Lansing Mall Cinema with the goal of having a completed studio by the end of 2021. Their drive-in movie theater is next to open on the weekend of July 4th and will feature classic movies from the 80's, 90's and beyond as well projects from independent film makers. Shows will run twice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7pm and 10pm. However, the fully finished studio will also include movie theaters, production studios and a comedy club. Follow Greenwood District Studios on Facebook for all updates.
Why the name 'Greenwood District Studios'?
It was one of the first questions I asked. The name is in honor of and remembrance of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. I'm ashamed to say that as an educated, adult woman I only learned about this moment in history thanks to a recent HBO show, Lovecraft Country. For those who don't know, in 1921 Tulsa was home to a "Black Wall Street" also known as the Greenwood District. According to tulsahistory.org, a confrontation was spurred between armed mobs, both black and white, that resulted in the decimation of the entire Greenwood District at the hands of white rioters. Thirty-five blocks were burned to the ground and as many as 300 people died. With the 100th anniversary approaching, Amaru felt reclaiming the name of Greenwood is both appropriate and necessary.
A local T.V. and movie studio that gives back:
While speaking with both Amaru and Lisa, the passion for their community was impossible to deny. That's why they've pledged to give 25% of their proceeds back to the community wherever its needed. They don't have a specific organization they're working with at the moment. Instead, Amaru said they'll be able to put the money towards economic development in the local communities without having to wait around for local governments to maybe give the help when its desperately needed.
Towards the end of our conversation I asked if there was one message about Greenwood District Studios that everyone should know. Amaru replied with, "Black owned doesn't NOT mean Black only." Amaru wants to create a space where, culturally, people feel seen and welcomed. His direct quote was, "Greenwood District Studios is the closest thing Black people will get to Atlanta culturally." He went on to say that the purpose of opening a T.V. and movie studio for the underserved and underrepresented communities is to show what inclusion really looks like. To tell all stories for all people.
Apart from Chicago, I'm not aware of any local spots where independent filmmakers can go to grow their skills, edit their work, sit down with other creatives and more all in one location. With Amaru's dedication, along with his surrounding team's dedication, I have no doubt that the finished project of Greenwood District Studios will be a much needed addition to, not only Lansing's community, but to the entire state of Michigan.