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Newark Moonlight Cinema owners Ayana and Siree Morris are creating a new Drive-In Experience on the land that the James M. Baxter Terrace Housing Project once stood.

Newark Moonlight Theater.jpg
James Frazier/Newark Moonlight Cinema
Newark Moonlight Cinema owners Siree and Ayana Morris

The pandemic of 2020 was the catalyst for innovation in so many industries. Newark Moonlight Cinema, the first drive in theater in Newark since the late 80’s, has added a twist to one of favorite americas past times. The owners, Ayana and Siree Morris, are providing a one of kind experience for movies goers. 

(Ayana)"You know, when we were doing Black Panther I made sure the whole staff.. I told them that I was no longer Newark Moonlight, it was Wakanda. So they all had to dress the part."

Mr. Morris, a developer & civil engineer, shared his thoughts on understanding what makes   your business distinct and why Moonlight has been able to connect with the community so well.

"Every business has to have something that makes them specifically unique. And for us we were able to identify how unique we were  in terms of the film industry through our culture. Which is Black culture." 

Newark Moonlight Cinema is built on the same land that The James M. Baxter Terrace Housing Projects once stood. Baxter Terrace, as it was commonly known, opened in 1941 but was demolished in 2009 due to neglect. Being raised in the public housing facility, Ayana recounts the moment she realized what the power couple had accomplished

"So this was the first time we were able sit down. I was like, first look what you built for me. As a film maker you can not ask for anything greater than two big screens to watch movies on. That’s a film makers dream. And to do it in Baxter Terrace is nostalgic. 

The drive in theater opened twice in one year. Once as a pop up at what used to be the Newark Bears stadium and the second time at its current home on Orange Street. Although he stressed how much energy it took to accomplish, Siree has a philosophy for completing goals no matter the degree of difficulty.

"You can either try to something or you can do it. And that’s it. Either you’re gonna set up a plan and execute the plan or you’re not." 

As the season comes to a close, Newark Moonlight Theater is preparing a surprise for guests this winter. 

"Here’s another announcement, it ends October 31st. But for the winter we’re transitioning to a drive thru light show. And that will happen till about January then we’ll reopen in April." 

For more information visit newarkmoonlight.com.

NOTE: James Frazier’s feature is part of the Newark News & Story Collaborative made possible with funding support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Victoria Foundation. The Newark News and Story Collaborative trains community members in storytelling, media-making, and other creative art forms to share and amplify their experiences. It’s laying the groundwork for a collaborative network that will address longstanding information inequities in Newark, New Jersey. For more information and stories, visit newarkstories.com.