COVID-19’s new normal brings the first Black-owned drive-thru movie theater in New Jersey
The Newark Moonlight Cinema has packed its venue since opening on July 24.
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The Newark Bears Baseball Stadium has taken on a new purpose. Instead of hosting ball games, it’s now the location of Newark Moonlight Cinema, New Jersey’s first Black-owned drive-thru movie theater.
The theater is run by Ayana Stafford-Morris, a Newark-born-and-raised filmmaker, and her husband Siree Morris, a real estate developer.
According to the U.S Census, Newark’s population is 49.7% Black, so the films are all from Black directors and feature actors.
Newark Moonlight Cinema opened on July 24, and so far it has shown films like The Wiz, Friday, Straight Outta Compton, and Do The Right Thing. Upcoming films will include The Last Dragon, Queen and Slim, Us, and The Best Man.
The energy at the theater is contagious. As you enter, a DJ is playing R&B and Hip-Hop classics, and the smell of barbeque fills the air.
“That’s our slogan. When you come here, you’re going to have good energy. It’s going to be a great vibe,” Ayana Morris told NJ.com.
For snacks, attendees can choose from refreshments from Black and brown-owned businesses like Path Water, Popcorn Popcorn and Partake Cookies.
While the U.S is contending with its long history of racism and fighting a pandemic, Newark Moonlight Cinema makes two things clear. One, that Black art and culture should be highlighted and celebrated, and two, that Newark residents are resilient.
Ayana and her husband Siree came up with the idea in May, after her documentary Why Is We Americans? was featured in an outdoor film festival.
Black-owned theaters are very rare in the country. Two Black brothers made news last year when they opened a theater in Maryland with their own money because they couldn’t find a lender.
“That is very important for us to control the narrative about who we are, the things that we like, to films that we like to see,” Siree told Gothamist. “And I’m very happy to be able to put some positive faces on screen and create a positive experience for families.”
In a matter of just 17 days, the owners have managed to consistently pack the cinema. On a really good night, the Morris family expects more than 300 cars to pull in, and they’ve already had those limits tested.
Newark Moonlight Cinema has also created jobs for people in the city. More than a dozen staff members, mainly local youth, direct traffic, serve food and assist with customer service.
The cinema will be open until Oct. 4, and shows one movie a night on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays starting at 9 p.m.
The cinema’s head of web design and digital marketing, Frankie Walls, is inspired by Ayana Morris’s vision and is excited to be on the team.
“Her putting me on this project and seeing it come off the ground, reaffirms that Black people, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, we can do whatever we want to do, as long as we have people in our corner who support us and want to see us succeed,” Walls told Carvd N Stone.