• J. Isaac Noel Benjamin, II

Greenwood District Studios-A Movie, Television, and Drive-In Theater has come to Lansing!

Updated: Mar 23


Courtesy Photo Greenwood District Studios-Chairman and CEO Amaru


Lansing is in for a treat. Lansing’s first black independently owned movie, television, and drive-in theater company have arrived! They are setting up a shop in Delta township at the old movie theater behind the Gordon Food Store parking lot. Greenwood District Studios (GDS) is spearheaded by a comedian turned business mogul, Amaru. GDS’s content will focus on underrepresented stories from underrepresented communities. “We at Greenwood District Studios will show the industry what inclusion looks like,” said Amaru.



Their website will be the central hub for distribution. As explained by Amaru, interested parties can get information by typing in Amaruflix.com or greenwoodstudios.com. Amaru proudly noted that 25% of the proceeds automatically go back into Lansing’s underserved communities. “You support us, and we support the community,” stated Amaru. "GDS is about an opportunity for those in the industry and for those who are not."


So, how did all of this get started? "About a year ago, George Floyd died, and COVID happen," said Amaru. "This shut down a lot of lives career-wise," Amaru explained that he has been a comedian for more than 22 years, as well as an independent filmmaker. So, in one fell swoop, Amaru found himself unemployed. "It wasn't just me," he said. "Everyone around him was in the same boat."


Amaru, born in Gary, Indiana, considers himself a problem solver. Two weeks after Floyd was murdered, they got together to brainstorm what to do. Amaru moved to Lansing 10 years ago to be with his girlfriend. "The reason they can get away with killing us is that we are not collectively worth anything," said Amaru. "It's all about money!" So, they decided to change the narrative. They came up with a plan to utilize their skills as filmmakers, comedians, and actors that included their own facility. The beauty of the project was that it also consists of the community. "This definitely includes the community," said Amaru. "Not only does this give back economic resources, but it also provides an opportunity for those who want it. Specifically, we can fix those potholes destroying our vehicles and the leaky roofs we know about throughout the community. This will give the entire community a sense of pride through beautification and the opportunity to get jobs with a family-supporting wage." Mostly, Amaru wanted to give the message that instead of waiting for somebody else to help, this plan puts the community in a position to help themselves.


Amaru plans to start a business with a drive-in theater. The drive-in proceeds will help fund the renovations and other things they plan to do on the inside of their newly acquired building. "One of the theaters will be a comedy club," said Amaru. "One of the television series will be a show about a comedy club." Amaru also has plans to do a comedy sitcom spoof on Quality Dairy called Quality Mart.


Additionally, they have plans to create a state-of-the-art editing suite. Amaru also explained that they have plans to take three of the six theaters and recreate Greenwood, which was burned down in 1921. On May 31, 1921, the massacre began when white mobs descended on Greenwood, burning houses and shooting black people. Some people were burned alive, and 40 square blocks of business and residential property — valued then at more than $1 million — were destroyed. “The concept is that after rebuilding Greenwood, we will let local businesses come in and breathe life back into Greenwood,” said Amaru.


Segway to Amaru talking about his twenty-two-year career as a comedian, and only five places have got the pronunciation of his name correct when introducing him. “This really stresses me out,” smiled Amaru. Amaru retold the story of how he got started in comedy. "I was at a comedy show in Los Angeles. He was asked what he thought of a certain white female comedian. "I thought she sucked," said Amaru. "Good," said his friend. "You have an appointment with her tomorrow." Amaru was hired as her writer, and the rest, as they say, is history.


So, I asked. As a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up, "I wanted to be a bus driver," said Amaru. When I stopped laughing, I asked, still giggling, what his parents did for a living. “My father was a pimp who got life for killing the wrong person, and my mother was a schizophrenic Jehovah's Witness. She could knock on the door and answer it for you at the same time," explained Amaru. Needless to say, Amaru didn’t have an ideal childhood. Amaru came through the juvenile and foster care system. Despite these disadvantages, Amaru made something of himself.


Out of Amaru’s many areas of experience, he considers his ability to write as his specialty. “I’ve been able to write things that manipulate the emotions,” said Amaru. “I’ve been able to do that most of my life.” Amaru, when reflecting on what in life makes him the happiest admitted that solving problems was the winner. "If people around you have issues, then you have issues," said Amaru. Especially if there are problems in the community.”


Amaru explained why he choose to be a comedian. “I was in Wyoming sitting at the bar getting ready to go on,” said Amaru. “I liked to absorb the vibes of the community I am in and possibly overhear some conversations before going on stage." A man sitting at the end of the bar leaned over and said, "I hear you are the headliner tonight." “Yeah...” said Amaru. “I am gonna need you to bring it, said the man. “Alright, no pressure,” smiled Amaru. After the show, the man approached Amaru and explained that he needed him to bring it because two days before the show, the man's 17-year old son committed suicide. “I needed that laugh,” said the man. “And you gave it to me.” “Laughter was the most powerful thing that I had ever experienced,” said Amaru. “The world needs laughter.” If you are interested in finding out more about what’s going on, go to www.greenwooddistrictstudios.com and sign up for their newsletter.

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