Michigan comedian transforms old mall theater into multimedia production complex
A Michigan-based standup comedian and entrepreneur is following in the footsteps of media moguls Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey with the opening the first Black-owned television and movie studio in the Great Lakes State.
Currently completing construction in Michigan's capital of Lansing, Greenwood District Studios (GDS) has already transformed the city's Lansing Mall Cinema, which had sat vacant since 2014, into a base for creatives in the media arts. The 27,000 square foot building will house production facilities for film, and audio recording studio, office space, a comedy club, a state-of-the-art media editing bay. The effort is the brainchild of Amaru, a 47-year old, Lansing-based standup comedian and film director.
The vision for Greenwood District Studios was born out of necessity. After the COVID-19 pandemic caused the shutdown of many film operations and forced many non-essential entertainment businesses to close, Amaru and other entertainment professionals like him, were left looking for work.
“How can I bring back my job and others some jobs,” said Amaru when asked about his inspiration for GDS. “Hope was the number one thing that came up and doing away with the despair that’s happening around, especially with our youth.”
Already, GDS is partially up and running. Studio employees and volunteers from the Lansing community have been cleaning up the sprawling facility for months, and it is paying off.
In September, GDS officially opened Funny is Funny, an on-site comedy club that features weekly open mic events for local talent and hosts weekend shows for professional comedians.
Although the studio has been catering to a primarily Black audience and supporting the area's Black talent pool, Amaru is clear about Greenwood District Studios' policy: Black owned does not mean Black only. GDS' TikTok account has nearly 100,000 followers, many of whom are international supporters and Amaru cites the popular appeal of the project as proof that his work is rooted in Black culture without being exclusionary.
Beyond the professional and community value of the Greenwood District Studios lies the historic underpinnings of its namesake. The studio is named after the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as “Black Wall Street,” a district of successful Black-owned businesses burned down by an angry white mob in 1921. Amaru plans to display images of Greenwood District throughout the space. Each studio within the complex will bear names relevant to the Tulsa Race Massacre.
“We wanted to combine the old with the new so that the old would never be forgotten,” Amaru said.
The space is expected to be complete by the end of next year. When it’s ready, it’ll include six studios, a state of the art editing bay and office space.