Greenwood District Studios, founded by a Lansing-based comedian and filmmaker known only by his stage name Amaru, is a Black-owned independent film studio that has made a home in the former building that housed the Lansing Mall Cinema, located across the street from the Lansing Mall.
Named in remembrance of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, Amaru’s vision for Greenwood District Studios includes a community space for independent filmmakers and creatives, a site to screen locally produced films and even a comedy club.
Amaru said that both of his careers, including his work as a touring stand-up comedian, were completely dismantled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The chaotic year also saw Amaru become heavily invested in the nationwide social justice movement inspired by the police murder of George Floyd.
“It was either move out West or listen to what was being said in these marches. That we needed to build our own economic development. I asked how I could do my part,” Amaru said.
When Amaru learned of the vacancy at the former site of the Lansing Mall Cinema, he decided to act. Inspired by the practices of Motown Records, which saw several local Detroit community members getting involved in the production of hit records, Amaru wants Greenwood District Studios to be an all-inclusive creative nerve center. He envisions a harmonious community production process.
“Motown was on the right track. They bought the block and dedicated each house to the music business. We’ve got one building. We’re Motown in this thing, on the film tip. Television, music and other things,” Amaru said. “That’s the idea and we’re executing it.”
Amaru is working on two film productions, “Marcus and Jeremy” and “Dare to Compete.” “Markus and Jeremy,” will be filmed and produced in Lansing, is based on a screenplay Amaru wrote more than 25 years ago but never got around to shooting. “Markus and Jeremy” is inspired by issues of racial and social justice. Amaru said viewers might compare the film to “American History X,” but he drafted his screenplay years before seeing the 1998 film, which stars Edward Norton as a neo-nazi skinhead.
“It’s in the vein of that. It’s a hard-hitting drama. It will be something to look forward to,” Amaru said.
Meanwhile, “Dare to Compete” tells the story of a female high school wrestling prodigy, and was originally set to be a Flint community project as a benefit to help remedy the water crisis. Now, it is a Greenwood District Studios production and will come to fruition once “Marcus and Jeremy” wraps.
Aside from producing independent films with help from local community members, Amaru wants the Greenwood District Studios building to grow into a positive and creative community space. He is working on getting the proper approval to host drive-in films and is working on converting part of the building in order to hopefully open a comedy club, something Lansing lacks altogether. Amaru expects the drive-in to be ready by late August. There are also plans to open an editing suite sponsored by film equipment manufacturing company Black Magic Design.
“The youth are losing hope. Can you imagine having a movie studio in your hometown? If this was in my neighborhood and I came up missing, this is where I’d be at,” Amaru said. “If we give the youth hope, we can change the whole city. If that’s what the city wants, we can do that.”
Amaru emphasised that though Greenwood District Studios is Black-owned, that doesn’t mean it isn’t inclusive to members of any race. He wants the studio to be open to anybody and everybody.
“Black-owned is not Black-only,” Amaru said.