Michigan’s first black-owned television and film studio is on its way to Lansing, the state capital.
Stand-up actor, director and entrepreneur, Amaru, is in the process of transforming the old Lansing Mall Theater at 921 Mall Drive W. into “Greenwood District Studios,” Mlive reported.
Amaru, who goes by only one name, said a number of events inspired him to open the studios, including the death of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How do I bring back my work and other jobs?” Amaru, 47, said. “Hope was the first thing to do and to eliminate the desperation that reigns, especially among our young people. “
The professional artist hit the jackpot when he secured the 27,000 square foot lot. He felt he could provide everything he needed for the film and audio production process.
“We got lucky and got a building to do whatever we want to do,” Amaru said.
Amaru and the small studio staff, along with a handful of volunteers, are working to revitalize the building, which had been vacant since the cinema closed in 2014. The screens inside the venue were cut and there was glass smashed and broken bottles on the second floor.
The team is working to remove debris, install new screens, stages and technical support. Michael Nathan, producer and director, is among those who help bring Greenwood District Studios to life.
“Good things take time and if you are willing to sacrifice yourself and work for it, it will happen no matter what,” he said.
The space is expected to be finished by the end of next year. When ready, it will include six studios, a state-of-the-art editing bay and offices.
While the production space is under construction, the studio opened its comedy club in September called Funny Is Funny. The club is used to give local talent a chance to shine. It offers open mics on Tuesdays and professional comedy performances 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.”
For Amaru, someone who has worked in the entertainment industry for 25 years, it’s important to create a space for artists to explore their craft within the 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.
The studio is named after Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District or “Black Wall Street,” a thriving black-owned business district burned down by an angry white mob in 1921. Amaru plans to post footage of the District of Greenwood throughout the space. Each studio will be named after something that was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre.
“We wanted to combine the old with the new so that the old is never forgotten,” Amaru said.