Hollywood in our own Backyard


Cole Bennett, Co-Editor In Chief

 Big things are happening in the old Lansing Mall Cinema. Amaru, a comedian and film director, has bought out the building in order to transform the location into a movie studio, called Greenwood District Studios.

  “I came into an idea the same month George Floyd was killed… and Covid was hitting. It made me unemployed in most aspects. I came to a crossroads in life… and it really made me sit down and think about what we are really marching for.” said Amaru.

  The name of the project, Greenwood District Studios, comes from the events of the race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Black Wall Street, located in The Greenwood District, was a community of black-owned businesses. It was burned to the ground, and as many as 300 people of color were killed. In recent history, this massacre has been somewhat forgotten about. The intention behind the name is to remember the tragedy and what it stood for, as well as what the studio stands for, as it is entirely black-owned.

   “We made history…You don’t see a movie and television studio that’s owned by a black person. I’m probably the fourth or fifth in the country” stated Amaru.

  When Amaru began the project in 2020, he had a plan. The movie theater layout of the building lended itself very well to the setup of the movie studio.

  “We’re gonna do what Motown did, and what Motown did was buy the block” said Amaru

  In this case, the ‘block’ is all contained in one building.  Each auditorium in the old movie theater is devoted to a different aspect of filmmaking. One has been transformed into an editing bay, and another has been remodeled into a soundstage.

  The studio will provide opportunities for up and coming local filmmakers. Having a location so close to home will help out artists who can’t make the big move to Hollywood. It also brings more activity in the area, and gives people in the area something to do.

  “Why we’re here is to give…the youth…an outlet to be creative and have access to the industry without compromise… I was your age… To have a studio like this in my backyard, I would’ve been here every day after school… I would have been here out of trouble” stated Amaru.

  The studio also aims to give back to the people, not only by offering filmmaking opportunities locally, but by actually sharing a portion of the revenue generated at the studio with the surrounding community.

  “We’re trying to home grow some talent and at the same time, create some value within our community, because part of our proceeds will go back to… underrepresented communities by way of y’know, fixing the streets…” said Amaru.

  Amaru mentioned ways that the money could help, such as paying to fix things like a hole in someone’s roof or a broken muffler. He also hopes to create something of an insurance plan for the community during times of need, like the pandemic.

  “If COVID happens again, or some other issue, we as a studio can cut that check.” explained Amaru.

  The studio had plans to start an outdoor movie theater in the parking lot of the studio. The project, aptly named Amaruflix, had plans to open in the summer of 2021. It would have brought in money for the studio to turn around and spend on renovation. Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees of Delta Township turned down plans for Amaruflix.

  “It was the first time the board has ever denied anything that the planning commission has approved… That put a monkey wrench in our finances, so we’ve been playing catch up ever since” explained Amaru.

  An aid to their financial troubles came in the form of their comedy club, located in one of the auditoriums, called Funny is Funny. Shows at the club are recommended for ages 17+, and there is no alcohol served, so the environment is more appropriate for younger audiences.

  “I like not having the problems that liquor brings, and we don’t need it to make you laugh” said Amaru.

  The club has open mic nights on Tuesdays with an entry fee of five dollars. Any budding comedians looking for exposure are invited to give stand-up comedy a shot. On Wednesdays, the studio shoots a sitcom, and people are welcome to sit in on the filming process for free as a studio audience. On Thursdays, there is a comedy show at 8 PM. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are shows at 8 PM and 10:30 PM. The 8 PM show on Friday is also broadcast live on the official website, funnyisfunnycomedyclub.com. Tickets for the livestream can be purchased ahead of time online for $22. On Sundays, there is a show at 7 PM. This is a clean comedy show, for “people who don’t like to cuss outside of the house”, as Amaru put it.

  Despite the earnings brought in from the comedy club, the studio has found itself struggling. An article written by Fox 47 was published last month, highlighting the financial troubles that the studio has faced as it continues with renovations. Amaruflix would have brought in lots of revenue for the studio, but without it, their main source of income comes from the comedy club. However, there are other ways to support Greenwood District Studios. They have a GoFundMe page, as well as merchandise that can be ordered online or bought on location. There is also a subscription service, where subscribers can watch past comedy shows recorded at the Funny is Funny club for $2.99 a month.

  Greenwood District Studios may just look like a movie studio on the surface, but it stands for so much more. The studio is a place where anyone can express themselves and have a local outlet to create film and television projects they might not otherwise get the opportunity to make. It’s not about the final products or the money made in the process, it’s about giving underrepresented members of the community a place to be heard.

  “It don’t matter what color you are, we all have the same emotions, feelings, and observations, so when you tap into those, that’s how we all connect…Our mantra is ‘We will show the industry what inclusion looks like’” emphasized Amaru.


Below are links to the Greenwood District Studios website and gofundme page