Siree and Ayana Morris, founders of Newark Moonlight Cinema, and children. Hide caption courtesy of Newark Moonlight Cinema
Courtesy of Newark Moonlight Cinema
Drive-ins have popped up across the country during the coronavirus pandemic. But only a few are in the middle of a city, next to a highway and skyscrapers.
It’s a warm fall evening in downtown Newark, New Jersey. Hundreds of us are standing in the middle of a gravel yard. Here is the pop-up Newark Moonlight Cinema, which opened in July and celebrates black filmmakers and actors. A DJ plays music before the show. People get out of their cars to dance – they wear masks and stay separate.
The crowd is filled with young couples, groups of friends, families with kids in pajamas, and older people reliving the days of drive-in. Strangers talk to their neighbors in neighboring cars. The mood is very friendly. Everyone seems happy to be out of the house.
Tonight the Moonlight Cinema is showing Black Panther. The drive-in staff is dressed up as characters from the film, including the founders of Moonlight, a married couple named Ayana and Siree Morris. Ayana stars in Angela Bassett’s character, Queen Ramonda; Siree is disguised as a Black Panther.
Ayana Morris is a filmmaker herself. She got the idea to open this place after a documentary she showed at an outdoor festival.
“I thought it was very smart, a great way to adapt to the time,” she says. “And I say, ‘Hey, I want to bring this to my town. It’s cool, there’s no drive-through in the area, so why not?'”
Her husband, Siree Morris, happens to be a real estate developer. And he thought of a place in the middle of downtown: on the grounds of the old home of the Newark Bears baseball team. The team went broke a few years ago and the stadium was demolished last year.
As a cinema, space has its challenges. For one, the lights from nearby skyscrapers and street lamps create some glare. And in the beginning they didn’t know how to put SUVs behind smaller cars for everyone to see.
“So you know, our first two days were kind of a touch and go,” notes Siree Morris.
“Even with a license!” Ayana Morris adds. “We’ve never owned a restaurant,” she says with a laugh.
But the couple solved those problems and now the whole evening is going very smoothly, from the time cars are led through the gate to the end of the evening when all the staff gathers at the exit to wave and each other To say goodbye effusively and to thank the outgoing audience.
The Moonlight shows everything from big popcorn films to indie creations, but all of the films have one thing in common – according to Ayana Morris, through the crisis of racism against black Americans that comes with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our goal is to highlight black filmmakers, actors and actresses,” she says, “based on the racist tensions that arose in the country and just seeing a recent news cycle of unarmed black people being shot dead by a police officer. I thought that it is so. ” would be a great way to escape, give us a chance to celebrate black culture and see positive images of ourselves. “
Siree Morris says tickets were sold out and people have been driving from all over to support this black-owned deal. “We have people from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, DC, and Maryland,” he says.
The Newark Moonlight Cinema has started showing premieres with Amazon and HBO. This year it will be open until the beginning of December. The Morrises say they are already finalizing their plans for 2021 – in a bigger place.