It’s curtains for the vacant Lansing Mall theater; it’s to become a drive-in and movie studio

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a photo of the outside of the vacant Lansing Mall Cinema

Bailey Wilson

The vacant Lansing Mall Theater where Greenwood District Studios and the drive-in are being built.

The old Lansing Mall theater is getting a makeover as plans for a new production studio and summer drive-in spot are underway. 

The theater was recently leased by Greenwood District Studios, Michigan’s first independently Black-owned movie studio, according to the studio’s website. Greenwood District Studios plans to turn the inside of the theater into a year-round production studio and the outside into a seasonal drive-in named Amaruflix.

Greenwood District Studios and the Amaruflix Drive-In is located at 921 Mall Drive W. in Lansing. 

The studio’s website also says their name pays honor to the Black-owned businesses that were destroyed during the 1921 attack on Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma attacks on the Greenwood Business District, also known as Black Wall Street, were carried out by a mob of white citizens. The mob looted and burned down Black-owned homes and businesses in the Greenwood District. 

The studio will feature a replica of “Black Wall Street” that will include banks, storefronts and food vendors.

Earnings from the drive-in will help support the work done inside Greenwood District Studios. A portion of the proceeds will go back into the surrounding underserved communities, company officials say. 

Treasurer, executive producer, and part-owner Kristen Kirsch says the studio, which will also include sound stages and meeting spaces, will be available to anyone interested in the entertainment industry. 

“Production companies or independent people could come in and want to film a television show, want to film a movie,” Kirsch said. “So anybody who comes in and we strike a deal with them they would be able to do that.”

The company wants to offer production opportunities to the community, Kirsch said.

“So if there are people who are interested in the entertainment industry – whether it’s sound, lighting, or anything – we want to be able to provide that opportunity for people to come in and job shadow off people and maybe find a niche for themselves,” she said. 

Kirsch also says the studio is focusing on inclusion when it comes to providing opportunities for minorities. 

“Oftentimes minorities are overlooked in storylines, period, or being cast in roles,” she said. “So we’re really looking at providing inclusion and being able to focus on the minority population to make sure that they get the opportunity that they deserve as well.” 

Delta Township Trustee Fonda Brewer said she is excited for the opportunity the studio will bring to the community. 

“Having something that ties back to such a historical issue, the Greenwood Districts that were violated in the 1900’s…having that rich history is good for the children, younger people to better understand the Black history.” Brewer said. “They may have not known that because they weren’t around, this is gonna bring it to the forefront and make it tangible where they can see it, feel it, touch it and be a part of it.”

Brewer said the residents of Delta Township, where the studio and drive-in are being built, are enthusiastic about the new project.  

“I have received a lot of positive feedback: ‘Where is it?’ ‘Omg I didn’t know we were getting a studio of our own!’ ‘Can I be an actor or actress?’… a lot of gratitude that something like this is going to be happening right here in our township.” Brewer said. 

The Amaruflix Drive-In grand opening is scheduled for May 1, and showings will continue through October. The drive-in will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Kirsch says the drive-in will feature minority films as well as independent films. 

“We want to be able to show diverse and minority films…films that maybe don’t ever make it to the big screen… we want to be able to show some classic movies that are diverse and urban, and then if we get approached by people who have independent films,” Kirsch said. 

Construction for the drive-in has yet to start, but is expected to be finished by the beginning of May. 

Greenwood District Studios is hoping to have construction on the studio completed by 2022.