COLUMBIA — The new Columbia Drive-in Movies Northeast series was started to correct an imbalance.
“Even though we're a 50-50 [Black/white] city, there's no spaces that are even dedicated to Black arts,” offered Omme Salma-Rahemtullah, project consultant for the new initiative and the former programming director at the Nickelodeon Theatre, the city’s lone arthouse cinema, located downtown on Main Street.
“Why does everything have to be centered downtown?” she continued. “For example, the Nickelodeon audience is 88 percent white. I mean, I'm sure that has everything to do with the location on Main Street.”
Starting Oct. 23, the series is setting up for two straight Fridays at the Spotlight Cinemas parking lot, offering an old-school, pop-in drive-in movie experience that looks to showcase Black filmmakers and correct geographical and racial disparities in Columbia’s arts scene.
The first night presented “The Wiz,” a Motown-led movie musical adaptation of the 1974 Broadway musical based on the children's novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which featured an all-Black cast. On Oct. 30, the feature will be Berry Gordy’s “The Last Dragon,” a 1985 martial arts comedy also heavy on Motown tie-ins. Both features are part of a familiar canon of family-friendly Black films that the organizers hope will speak to a community too often overlooked.
“For too long the Northeast community has lacked immediate access to the arts, forcing neighbors to go to Downtown primarily for these experiences” Curtis Caesar John, executive director of The Luminal Theater, is quoted in a press release. The New York-based nomadic cinema is behind the new series in Northeast Columbia.
“These screenings are a first-step in correcting that, with an emphasis on Black films that reflect the historical core of our community.”
Each night, the familiar feature is preceded by a short film from a local Black filmmaker, with a pre-recorded Q&A preceding the screening. On Oct. 23, the short was “Cuidate” by Columbia native by Joseph Micah Johnson, and, on Oct. 30, “By Word Of Mouth” by Mahkia Greene. A thematic DJ set from Preach Jacobs (a frequent Free Times contributor) is the lead-in for both nights' festivities.
John and Salma-Rahemtullah conceived of this project as an extension of John’s work in New York City, where Luminal has looked to provide fully curated exhibitions of diverse cinema and media from the Black/African diaspora that lack a consistent outlet.
“Luminal began back in 2016 mainly to address the needs of filmmakers, to address the struggle of not being able to really connect with their [intended] audiences,” John told Free Times. “Most Black filmmakers make their films for every audience but you know, with a specific like, especially like Black audience in mind, but what happens is, they don't always get to reach the people, because if the people don't come out to things like film festivals. So we decided to kind of be a go-between, to bridge the filmmakers and audiences.”
Luminal Theater would do pop-up screenings in unlikely community spaces in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brooklyn, and John said he always intended to bring the approach back to Columbia. Working with Salma-Rahemtullah and securing grant support from SC Humanities, Luminal was able to get the necessary equipment and screening rights for the initial series, and to secure a location at Spotlight Cinemas at the Columbia Place Mall.
“We made a very conscious effort to make sure the screening was accessible in terms of its location in the Northeast.” Salma-Rahemtullah said. “Because that's where the people are that we want to build community with.”
There are currently two screenings scheduled, but the idea is to continue the pop-up approach — contingent on funding — taking advantage of the Columbia area’s varied outdoor spaces.
And while both John and Salma-Rahemtullah put an emphasis on local Black filmmakers, there’s no denying that the features were selected to bring in a wider, and older, audience.
“These types of films really connect with the community,” John said. “We want people to be able to interact with these films and songs, even though they'll be in their cars, but interact with this film with these films in a different space.”
Columbia Drive-in Movies Northeast
Oct. 30 (Oct. 23 sold out). Free (tickets must be reserved in advance). 6:30 p.m. luminaltheater.org/events.