Newark natives Siree and Ayana Morris recently made history by establishing the state’s first-ever Black-owned drive-in movie theater.
The couple says the increase in demand for Black art driven by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the need for social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have helped pave the way for the return of the classic drive-in movie experience.
The pair, together for 15 years, capitalized on their professional expertise to make Newark Moonlight Cinema a reality. Siree, a real estate developer, helped draw up site proposals, and filmmaker Ayana said she drew inspiration for creating a drive-in theater after her documentary “Why Is We Americans?” premiered on a large outdoor screen at the Lighthouse International Film Festival earlier this year.
“I’ve been wanting to open up a movie theater of my own for some years now, my husband and I have talked extensively about it, and done a lot of research,” Ayana said in a press release last month. “We were trying to find out how to make that happen, so when I saw this I knew it was a great opportunity for me to capitalize on and remix a goal of mine. It’s not a traditional movie theater, but it’s very close to it, so I’m excited about that.”
At the theater, which is located at the former Newark Bears baseball stadium, customers are able to choose from a variety of food and snack options. The theater maintains a block party-like atmosphere in which patrons can listen to R&B and hip-hop oldies, and chow down on barbecue during the experience.
More than 350 cars can be allowed onto the lot, which contains a 55-foot screen that shows films exclusively on the weekends. Moviegoers can listen to the audio of the film from inside their cars.
Since the theater opened on July 14, it has featured the work of Black actors and directors by showing films like “Girls Trip,” “Creed 2,” and “Just Mercy.”
“We see a lot of [drive-in theaters] are playing ‘Jaws’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and we love those films, we’ve probably all seen them a million times by now, but those are not films that appeal to my demographic and the community that I serve,” Ayana said.
In the future, the theater will feature films like “Harlem Nights,” “Us,” “Get Out,” “Queen and Slim,” and “Princess and the Frog.” The couple says they were able to launch the theater after only three months of planning.
The theater passed the city’s required COVID-19 inspection, and customers must wear masks when outside of their vehicles.
Many local youth were able to take advantage of the employment opportunities offered by the theater, which will remain open until early October. The lot opens at 7 p.m. and the films begin at 9 p.m.