By ALYSSA BURR, MLive.com
LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Construction is underway for what the owners say is the first black-owned television and film studio in Michigan.
Stand-up comedian and director turned entrepreneur Amaru, who goes by only one name, said it was a combination of events with the death of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic that inspired him to open the Greenwood District studios, reports MLive.com.
“How can I bring back my work and other jobs? Amaru said. “Hope was the first thing to do and to eliminate the desperation that reigns, especially among our young people. “
Racial equity and community demand, self-motivation and support have spurred an increase in many black-owned businesses during the pandemic, according to Millie Chu, DCI programs business consultant for the Michigan Small Business Center .
“Some were made redundant and pursued entrepreneurship out of necessity and some chose to quit their jobs to pursue their dreams,” Chu said. “Overall, the pandemic has caused us to reconsider options or what really matters. Often times that option or dream is to own a business.
Located in the former Lansing Mall Cinema, the land has been vacant since the cinema closed in 2014. As a professional artist, Amaru knew that the 27,000 square foot lot would perfectly house what is needed for the production process. cinematic and audio, from pre-production to post-production and everything in between.
“We got lucky and got a building to do whatever we want to do,” Amaru said.
As the project progresses steadily, the reuse of abandoned buildings is not without its challenges.
Entering inside what were once movie theaters are now tattered and cut screens, along with shattered glass and shattered bottles on the second floor of the building.
The small studio staff and a handful of volunteers worked, mostly by hand, to remove debris from the building and restore it with new screens, stages and tech equipment.
Michael Nathan is a producer and director who is part of the team working to make Greenwood District Studios a reality.
“Good things take time and if you’re willing to sacrifice yourself and work for it, it will happen no matter what,” Nathan said.
Once the reconstruction is complete, the building will include six studios, a state-of-the-art editing bay and offices.
Originally from Kalamazoo, Amaru, 47, has worked in the entertainment industry for 25 years. He said his first Hollywood experience was working as a budding writer in Los Angeles for rapper and actor Master P.
He said he was able to forge many interesting relationships on the West Coast, but also faced many broken promises.
“. “Waiting for people to follow through is not what I like to do. “
While the production space is still under construction, it’s the studio’s Funny is Funny comedy club that will give local talent a chance to stand out in a way it didn’t have before.
The comedy club opened in September. It organizes open mic evenings on Tuesdays, with professional comedians performing on weekends.
“Maybe it’s not about me, maybe it’s about someone showing up and I giving them the opportunity to blow up,” Amaru said. “It could be someone who hasn’t come yet who could be that spark.”
Similar to what black artists have done, like Tyler Perry with his Atlanta production studio, Amaru wants to “buy the block” so black creatives can explore their craft within their own community.
“So that we can give the green light and say yes to projects and tell our stories when we want to tell our stories without having to wait for someone… we can change the narrative,” Amaru said.
Although he reaches out to black artists, he has made it clear that being black doesn’t just mean black. He said the studio’s TikTok account, which has more than 96,000 subscribers, has garnered much appreciated international support for the company.
The studio can also be useful in bringing black culture to other communities.
The studio is named after the Greenwood District, or “Black Wall Street,” in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The neighborhood was home to an abundance of black-owned businesses, but was torched by a mob of angry white residents in 1921 during what is now known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Amaru plans to display footage of the Greenwood District in all studios and each of the studios will be named after something that was destroyed in the massacre.
“We wanted to combine the old with the new so that the old is never forgotten,” Amaru said.
Construction is expected to be fully completed by the end of next year.
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