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  • Kaleb A. Brown

The Show that Goes On: Detroit's Redford Theatre in the Age of Covid

Hello and welcome back to the Brown Variety Hour! This next piece is an example of immersion journalism and it's about a place that's very dear to me: the Redford Theatre. If you're not in the know, Immersion Journalism refers to journalism in which the reader is immersed in a first-person story instead of being a third-person observer; it builds off of narrative journalism and is often a component of gonzo journalism. Some immersion journalism pieces err on the side of using the interviewees to create the story, while others insert themselves into the piece — this is the latter. Besides being about the detailing the Redford itself, I use my personal experience with the Redford as a vehicle to dig deeper into questions regarding the Redford's standing.

This piece was written and edited during November through December of 2020. I haven't checked back in with the Redford, but as of this writing, there are no shows scheduled until Tiny Meat Gang's show in early July, so it's safe to assume that the theatre is once again closed until further notice. As of now, the Redford theatre continues to show/stream movies on its Facebook page, most recently A Jackie Robinson Story.

Finally, a word about citations: in a perfect world, I'd be able to use footnotes. Unfortunately, neither footnotes nor endnotes are implemented in Wix's blog, so I've made do with linking sources in the relevant text.

With that out the way, enjoy the show!


The Show that Goes On

Detroit's Redford Theatre at night
The Redford Theatre shortly before temporarily closing last March. Credit to jenniferhbowman on Instagram

I can see the Redford Theater vividly. The sidewalk is filled with people waiting to be admitted, standing under the flashing yellow lights of the marquee; on top of it is the word, “Redford” in red letters. I turn to see cars heading to the parking lot and my eye is caught by the colorful mural across the street. On Lahser Road, The Redford is neighbor to several storefronts including Sweet Potato Sensation and Motor City Java House. I pay five dollars at the box office and receive a beautiful, green-to-yellow gradient ticket that I’ll never throw away.It’s a memento of the night, and by touching it, I’ll be teleported back to this time and place. As I open the glass doors and walk inside, I can feel the red carpet of the lobby under my feet. There are many t-shirts, vinyls, and VHS tapes for sale. On the wall are framed pictures of some of the theatre’s most acclaimed past shows: To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, and Casablanca. As I walk further into the theater, I see the concessions stand and smell the delicious scent of popcorn. I gawk at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the beautiful reliefs on the wall, the two paintings overlooking each of the lobby’s stairways. One depicts two ladies in kimono in front of a river, the other shows two men in front of a road, one brandishing a katana and the other holding a long, wooden smoking pipe. At this point, the rich, elegant sound of the pipe organ from the auditorium is inescapable. Going in further, I’m treated to stunning architecture — the sides of the stage and walls are decorated to look like traditional Japanese buildings and the ceiling looks like a dark night sky, complete with stars that twinkle in and out of existence. Figures that look like they were taken straight from the earlier paintings are on the walls. The room is filled with teal seats — a tad too small and lacking cupholders, but these faults somehow make them that much quainter. At this time of year, a sprawling miniature winter town is displayed in front of the stage, including two running trains. After taking a picture with my phone, I decide to head back to the concession stand to buy popcorn, candy, and a drink. After deliberating for far too long which sizes and candy to get, I’ll head to my favorite seats — on the center-right balcony — to just soak in the atmosphere before the show starts.

Then I open my eyes and think, “oh right, it’s 2020.”

As to not begin with the negatives, allow me to highlight one of this year’s seemingly rare positives: in a time where everything seems liable to slip through our fingers, we’ve come to realize what we wish to hold onto, to grasp. Movies and television seem to be one such thing. As it turns out, when you’re stuck inside for an inordinate amount of time, you realize that there are a lot of things to watch and you start thinking “hey, they’re pretty darn good, too.” Business has been booming for streaming companies: Netflix saw a notable spike in subscriptions in the first quarter, propelling the then-recently released Tiger King — a show that, by all accounts should have flown under the radar — to the echelons of cultural zeitgeist. Disney+ saw a notable increase as well, making the streaming house of mouse’s debut in late 2019 seem like an act of macabre providence. It’s clear that motion pictures still remain a popular pastime, but what about their tried and true medium; the theater?

That’s where the bad news and my shelter-induced daydream come into play. Theaters have been one of the many industries that the COVID-19 Pandemic has brutalized; streaming services are only able to sip martinis on the beach because movie theaters are drowning in the ocean. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest theater chain in the country, has decided to jump ship and indefinitely close most of its theaters. Other theaters are flailing their arms hoping they’ll stay afloat — AMC has recently launched a program allowing patrons to rent out theaters.

Whether or not a rescue boat will reach them in time, who’s to say? All I know is that 2020, besides being a time of destruction, besides being a time of affirmation, is a time of reflection.

I’ve thought a lot about the local Redford Theater, which is part theater, part monument. Over the past months, I’ve worried about whether or not it could weather the storm of Coronavirus. While I’m not exactly a regular at the Redford, I’ve gone several times and I’ve always loved my experiences there. I remember my first time at the theatre well. It was six years ago: I saw a flyer for the Redford at my local library and decided to see Somewhere in Time for Valentine’s with my then-girlfriend. I decided to go on a whim; neither of us had been; I just thought of it as a theatre that was showing a romantic movie. I wasn’t prepared for it to steal my breath away with its timeless, grandiose beauty. Watching a movie about time travel was the perfect introduction to a theatre that feels like I’m stepping through a time portal.

I’ve been told that I have an old soul — it took me years to ditch my iPod Classics and begrudgingly adopt music streaming, I own a vinyl player, and I prefer analogue film to digital — so the Redford’s status as a movie theater palace of yesterday was right up my alley. I can’t tell you, for certain, where this preference of mine comes from. Maybe it’s a want of deliberateness. As some fans of the Redford will tell you, going to the theater is an experience, more so than watching something at home. When you play a vinyl or shoot digital, I feel you’re more likely to remember it. The relative inconvenience of the mediums make you remember them that much more. You can somewhat mindlessly choose a movie to watch on Netflix or a song to listen to on Spotify; not so much with theaters and records. A less pompous possibility is that I’m just desperately searching for a way to feel special. And finally, the more romantic option is maybe I do have an old soul, and so I’m constantly searching for ways to pursue feelings of anemoia.

Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour as the appear in the film Somewhere in Time
Christopher Reeves opposite Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time

A few weeks after seeing Somewhere in Time, I decided to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s with my mother, and I had a good time (save for Mickey Rooney’s horrifying yellowface). Later in the year, I saw Roman Holiday. If you couldn’t tell, the Redford cultivated my appreciation for Audrey Helpburn; if not for it, I probably wouldn’t have a poster of her staring at me as I write.

Even though I don’t go terribly often, the Redford means a lot to me and I keep coming back to it. But in returning to it, I’ve discovered that it might not be as good as I thought.

To understand thoughts on the Redford, you’ll need to know exactly what it is. The Redford Theatre is on Detroit’s northwest side and has been there since 1928, in continuous operation. The Redford never was prime real estate — its location in the outskirts of the city meant that it wasn’t a first-run theatre, getting the downtown theaters’ showings weeks after they did. The key to the theater as it exists today is in its pipe organ, which it has retained since its inception. In the sixties, the Motor City Theatre Organ Society (or MCTOS) was given permission by the owners of the Redford to restore its organ, which was originally used for the musical accompaniment of silent films. In 1977, the owners decided the theatre wasn’t profitable and asked if MCTOS wanted to buy it off of them, which, after much deliberation, they agreed. With it, the classic movie series was born and proved to be a big hit, continuing to be played until the present.

One thing that theatres tend to do better than home video is creating memories — for many, going out to see a movie is an event. The Redford Theatre epitomizes this fact greatly; volunteers remember their first time at the Redford well. Steve Overstreet, vice-president of the theatre, was first introduced to the Redford twelve years ago when his youngest daughter was looking for a place to get married. When they came across the Redford online, Steve and his wife decided to see a movie there one evening. When they walked up the balcony staircase, Mrs. Overstreet called her daughter to tell her “this is the place.” Dennis Cuper, who works concessions, was introduced to the theatre seven years ago thanks to his brother-in-law and sister-in-law who were fans of the theatre’s annual Three Stooges Fest. He and his wife loved it and after attending the next one, Cuper filled out the concessions application. Carl Kiehler’s history with the theater goes back to 1977 when he was twenty-four years old and attended a show. He was enthralled by the theatre’s beauty and its Barton pipe organ, which was marvel even at the time.

An interior view of Detroit's Redford Theatre. The Barton organ is visible.
The beautiful interior of the Redford Theatre. Its famous Barton organ is on the lefthand side of the stage. Image found on the Redford's webpage.

And the feeling of awe persists. When I asked him about his favorite aspect of the theatre, Carl Kiehler, warmly spoke of the organ. “It makes a very wonderful, happy type of atmosphere and you realize you’re part of something that’s really special.” Dennis Cuper also appreciates this old, happy feel, along with having the opportunity to joke with patrons. One of his favorite jokes is saying, “I’ll hold your charge card for you. If you see a charge for $250,000, it’s just an Ashton Martin, don’t worry about it.” People may come for the older movies, but they stay for the memories that last a lifetime.

The Redford is not only distinct from theatre chains but also from other smaller theaters. Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater can be said to be the Redford Theatre’s twin in many ways. Both movie palaces were opened in January 1928 with identical Barton Organs. Both remain in operation to this day, but while the Michigan is normally open daily and has paid staff, the Redford generally has shows every other weekend and its staff is completely volunteer-based. As it turns out, the volunteer model is what’s given the theatre its longevity.

“I think the theatre would have gone under many, many years ago if we had to pay our staff,” says Steve Overstreet. Volunteers are made up of people like Overstreet, Kiehler, and Cuper, who all were touched by the Redford. “That’s our common bond,” says Overstreet, “it’s the love of being the last historic movie palace still open in Detroit.”

A labor of love is still labor, nonetheless, and a lot of work goes into keeping the theatre running.

In addition to working concessions and selling 50/50 raffle tickets, Dennis Cuper does mantincence, which ranges from killing weeds to identifying and fixing leaky pipes. If this isn’t enough, Cuper is a chairman of memberships, which involves tasks such as collecting dues. I originally was planning on writing that Cuper has his “hands in everything,” but, as it turns out, that describes every volunteer I spoke to. Overstreet, for example, in addition to being vice-president, is involved with other aspects of the theater such as being the chairperson of the restoration committee. Insurance of the building currently sits at $34,000 per year and the Redford’s summer rent is $5,000. In addition to ticket and concession sales, the Redford makes money through donations and renting the theatre out. Renters can hold private events such as weddings and birthday parties or public shows — I, for example, have attended a ballet and a burlesque show at the Redford. The Redford is generally booked until a year in advance.

All the staff members I spoke to spoke glowingly of a sense of community at the Redford theater. I’d like to think of myself as someone who can get by by myself, but I have to admit that there’s a sense of camaraderie when going to the Redford, moreso than other theaters. Even when I go alone to the Redford, I don’t feel as alone as I would if I decided to go to a cinemark alone. At the Redford, it seems like there’s a connection deeper than just “happen to be watching the same movie.”

COVID-19 of course broke out in America, shuttering Redford. I don’t want to say the theatre was unaffected, as it has been, but while COVID-19 has hit some businesses like a truck, it miraculously hit the Redford more like an SUV Volunteers at the Redford, much like many others, couldn’t imagine being in the position they found themselves in. They thought Coronavirus would be nothing more than a seasonal flu. Once theatres were shut down, they decided to freeze all maintenance projects; the only money they spent was to pay overhead costs. The Redford’s sizable emergency fund helped them through the shutdown which began in March. Back in the Summer, when I was originally planning on writing this piece, the Redford was screening movies on Facebook and held socially distanced drive-in projections in its parking lot; so the theater retained visibility.

When I was originally planning on writing about the Redford, I was worried it might go under, but it seems my worry has been in vain. The Redford has six months worth of savings still and they’re back to screening movies. Two weeks after Governor Whitmer’s allowed theatres to re-open, the Redford had its first indoor show since May — Hocus Pocus. I try to see if I can imagine going to theRedford right now. Their patrons are capped at three-hundred-fifty, owing to its large size. That’s nothing to sneeze at and I’ve been to shows around that size. “We’re in better shape than a lot of theatres,” Steve says. “Alot of theatres have small auditoriums and they’re only allowed to have ten, fifteen people.” I have more trouble picturing people standing six feet apart during the concession line — we’re generally packed like sardines as we wait to get our movie treats. I can imagine the shielded counter and gloved cashiers Steve describes, if only because I’ve navigated the strange, cautious COVID world. Then I’m placed back into the realm of unimaginable as he tells me they’re not serving popcorn — understandable, commendable, even, but still disappointing.

Detroit's Redford Theatre's famed organ
A closer look at the Redford's Barton organ. Image courtesy of Jim Boutell via

So, it seems that the Redford is able to play another day.

But that’s only half the story.

Because if the Redford survives thanks to the love of its patrons and volunteers, that naturally begs the question: who, exactly goes to the Redford? Who is the Redford for? If the Redford is a community theatre, what community does it profess to serve? As Detroit is often said to be among the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country, the Redford’s placement on the Detroitian outskirts should make my implication clear.

In the Summer of 2020, when interning at the Detroit Free Press, I pitched a story about the Redford to my supervisor about the theatre’s historic closure. She told me that the story was more complicated than I thought; that many saw the Redford more for suburbanites than the people who lived in the area. It shouldn’t have been shocking, after all, I’ve heard something along that effect from my parents before: they’d tell me to think about the people I saw at the Redford. Still, hearing that complaints were apparently so prominent that I couldn’t even professionally write about the place stung. It felt like, over dinner, I had discovered that a beloved relative had a hidden, unsavory past. To some, this might sound dramatic, but these complaints essentially state that the Redford, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel inclusive. In an instant, the praises about community have been thrown into question. 2020’s a year where many have been forced with questions of inclusivity; be that in their local communities or very country, so the claim that the Redford ignores members of its local communities in favor of others seems particularly damning. Eager to see if the place that I love really does have skeletons in its Exotic Revival closet, with the distance and objectivity that the pandemic brings, I’ll do what my parents have prompted me to: I’ll think about who I see at the Redford.

The first thing I notice about the patrons of the Redford is that they tend to be older in age. This extends to the staff as well: Overstreet is seventy-four, Cuper is sixty-five and I called Kiehler on his seventy-ninth birthday. Cuper told me that the theatre has a bit of a problem getting younger staff to commit to leadership positions; the older members are generally retired and don’t have to worry about moving away or juggling volunteer work with school and a career. As far as patrons go, Kiehler says the age “varies a fair amount. A lot of older people come, but it depends on the movie we show. Classic movies when I started going were from the twenties, thirties and forties. Classic movies to people your age also includes movies from the seventies, eighties and nineties.”

This expanding definition of “classic” can be seen in the Redford’s programming. When the classic film series began in 1977, the newest movie it showed was 1956’s Around the World in 80 Days and that was an outlier, with every other movie being from the forties or earlier. By the early 2000s, they were showing 1978’s Grease and 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors. Come the New Tens, they seemed to drag their feet in showing nineties films, but in recent years, they’ve shown films as recent as 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite, which Steve says were hits. While relatively recent classics are present, they’re sporadic.

“Young people aren’t necessarily interested in seeing Gone with the Wind or Humphrey Bogart. Yet we end up getting quite a lot of families coming for those because parents are trying to educate their kids on old classics,” says Steve. I can’t help but wonder if this is sustainable, though, as there’s a difference between “young people organically deciding to see a movie they consider old” and “young people being taken to a movie that they consider ancient.” Redford has a small social media presence: while it’s on Instagram, the “hip” social media platform, its tag is infrequently used. It seems to have more of a foothold on Facebook. Besides the official theatre page, Old Redford memories is a group where past patrons often wistfully recall going to the Redford during their youth. All three staff members I talked to described this demographic as changing, but I really don’t really remember this being the case, unless they mean “no young people” has shifted to “a select few young people.”

I don’t really know anyone else my age who goes to the Redford, save for one of my friends. I convinced him to watch Enter the Dragon with me, then I tagged along with him and his family to see It’s A Wonderful Life. This, perhaps, could be due to the shifting and expanding definition of “classic.” If you’re a so-called “Old Soul” than any classic movie, no matter how “dusty” will do, but if not, you’ll need something that hits the sweet-spot of “old” and “recognizable.” I remember a few people from my high school went to the Redford to see Back to the Future Part II in 2016, which is an eighties movie, and thus, falls into that sweet spot.

The other thing I noticed was that the patrons tend to be white. Like the age range, this is something that the staff I talked to claims to have changed. Cuper says the Redford is “trying to do things that the Black Community would like.” Kiehler recalls a program the Redford put on for Black History Month. “We had Pam Grier come in. We had a lot of advertising and it didn’t really draw that much. That was kind of a surprise to us.” Looking in the archives, this was in 2014.

Soon after, there was a showing of 2013’s The Butler and a gospel stage play, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg played there a month after. It seems there was an abundance of more African-American focused movies before the well dried again. While anyone can rent out the theatre, I feel that having more Black-focused movies in the Classic Film Series would be a better way to integrate more people in standard shows. It seems like the Redford tried once before calling it quits. It’s not like there’s a lack of options and I’m surprised that in the six years since, the only “Black-focused” film the movie selection committee has put out was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in 2019.

To learn more about the people who went to Redford, I tried reaching out to patrons. The volunteers I spoke to talked about a couple who had a Star Wars wedding. Loving both Star Wars and the Redford, I wished that I could talk to them about it.

A few days later, thanks to the Redford’s very tight-knit community, we ended up talking about it.

The couple in question is Janice Miller-Kellerman and Roy Kellerman Jr. One of the first things I noticed about them were their ages — at 45 and 47, respectively, they’re the youngest people I’ve interviewed for the Redford. Their individual histories of the Redford was why they chose it as their wedding venue. For Roy, the Redford, was a fixture of his childhood. “I lived four blocks east [of the Redford] and I remember my mom always talking about it when it was first bought back [from the previous owners]. I’ve passed it a million times going down Lahser Road, so it’s very familiar for me.” He remembers attending several shows in the seventies and eighties. In 1998, the Redford gave Janice an opportunity that was vital to her graduate thesis. Her thesis on Digital Media Studies required a performance space large enough to capture an orchestra, thirty-two dancers, and several cameras. As the Redford was undergoing extensive renovations, it wasn’t showing movies at the time, and as a result, rented the stage to Janice for a reduced price. “I was instantly in love with it from then,” she says.

“As soon as he proposed to me,” Janice recalls, “When we were thinking of a venue to get married, I was like, ‘oh, it has to be the Redford.’ It was the one thing we had in common above all else.”

She recalls how accommodating volunteers like Steve Overstreet were for their wedding. For their Star Wars wedding in 2017, they had their own Star Wars trailer and title crawl made, had the main theme played on the organ, and even had members from the 501st legion, a fan-run organization dedicated to wearing movie-accurate Star Wars villains costumes, come in. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard all of this. For one, Star Wars is among my favorite series and a wedding themed around it sounds extremely fun and memorable. I’m also happy for the simple fact that I get to speak to someone else who’s been touched by the Redford so much that they’d consider getting married there. Marriage for me is way (, way) off, but one of my dream wedding venues is the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, which serves as the main setting for Somewhere in Time. I’ve also imagined getting married at the Redford Theater itself.

Having their wedding at the Redford made their love for it grow even more. “Since our wedding, we’ve been there a lot for shows,” Janice says. “We’ve taken our friends and families. In 2019, the Redford got the license to play the original trilogy over a weekend. We volunteered that whole weekend and our buddies from the 501st came out again.” Before the pandemic hit, they went to the Redford about once a month. They also found themselves volunteering at theatre and donating — notably, they bought several seats, having their names, as well as those of relatives, immortalized on the plaque. This is something that I, myself have been interested in doing. I can just see it now, years down the line, someone will come to the Redford and if they happen to pick the balcony seats, they’ll find my name there, somewhere in my favorite spot.

Like many others, the two love Redford’s atmosphere. For Roy, it’s the organ, for Janice, it’s the screen and all the grandiose splendor that comes with it. “The first time I saw the Sound of Music from start to finish at the Redford Theater and it was really cool to see that multi-generational love of film. Today, kids just sit around and they watch Netflix or Hulu on their phones, this pathetically small screen which still makes me wince. It definitely dates me,” she laughs. “There’s an atmosphere that you can’t get on a little phone or even from your living room.” I don’t think this can be argued. I’ll certainly watch things on my phone or computer, I make an effort to watch movies on my television, and even then, it’s not the same. Of the Audrey Hepburn movies I’ve seen, Love in the Afternoon is my least favorite and I think part of the reason is because I watched it at home as opposed to the Redford.

Even though they give the theatre their glowing approval, I try to dig deeper to see what my advisor was implying. I try to find out what the Redford does for its community. It has a good relationship with other nearby businesses such as the Motor City Java House, Simply Divine Bakery, and Sweet Potato Sensations, which has been in operation since the seventies. The restaurant began its life in one of the office spaces the Redford owned and their sweet potato cookies can be purchased at the Redford’s concessions counter. The owners of Sweet Potato Sensations even have a key to the Redford, according to Overstreet. Carl Kiehler believes the Redford's contribution to the community is its presence. “We’re welcome to anyone who wants to come and we rent to anybody who can afford it. The area will slowly become a destination as the theatre becomes more known.” Steve says the Redford is a cornerstone of its neighborhood. While it might be the economic center, in terms of actively engaging with its community, I think that distinction belongs across elsewhere I turn to the “coffee shop down the street:” Motor City Java House.

Having a neighborhood coffee shop had been a dream of Alicia George since 2000 and in 2013, she made that dream come true, opening Motor City Java House with her husband. She was inspired by the liveliness of Ann Arbor. “There was always something going on, but when I went back home, there would be nothing or there were places that were so far apart that you had to get in a car.” Alicia George has worked with Blightbusters to help revitalize the neighborhood through beautification and economic development. Alicia George is one of the co-founders of Lahser’s art center, Artist Village, which is what the mural marks. Motor City Java House has served as a meeting space for artists and other community members. The coffee shop fosters feelings of community by the way it engages with its patrons. Alicia George describes her coffee house as “where the world meets” and she takes pride in considering her establishment part of the gateway to the city. She says that the theatre’s patronage used to be predominantly older, white individuals, but by encouraging patrons to go to the Redford and vice-versa, the theatre’s patronage has shifted.

I continued my cynical search of Redford Theatre naysayers. I took to Reddit and Nextdoor, but, much like those I formally interviewed, I was only met with fond memories and great experiences. And to be fair, this isn’t me trying to take the Redford down; I still love the theatre. Once it’s safe to do so, you’ll be able to find me attending a show. I’m determined to have my name on a chair one day. Ultimately, my search is out of concern. It’s deflating hearing something you love might not be all its cracked up to be; that someone may hate what you hold dear. Worse still, they may hate it for a good reason. I wanted to get to the bottom of this: to find out what was wrong and how I could fix it. I had originally written a piece on the Redford three years prior — talking to Steve Overstreet was a reunion. The piece isn’t anything to write home about; the main takeaway is how glowingly I write about it there. Knowing that there’s people who dislike the Redford means that I, in good conscience, can’t write a wholly positive piece. That’s why not being able to find its detractors is so frustrating: their voices are evidently there, but they’re the faintest whispers and I cannot for the life of me pick them out among the crowd of cheers. It’s possible that people dislike it, but not to the point where they’d bother ranting and about it online. Perhaps they’re apathetic, “just another establishment that doesn’t care about me.” Somehow that feels worse.

Ultimately, I take great interest in how the Redford is seen because it’s a place I love and it makes me sad to think that others don’t like it. Sadder still is the possibility that I love something that’s problematic and I was just too foolish to see it. If my advisor hadn’t spoken to me, I probably would’ve never given much serious thought to the Redford not being inclusive. Whenever my parents would bring it up, I’d be arrested with feelings of guilt before brushing it off. But my advisor made it so I couldn’t ignore it. I had to ask myself if the Redford was inclusive or not. If it wasn’t, while I’d still see myself going to the Redford, I wouldn’t feel as good as I did before, I’d feel like I was participating in something untoward. Not finding a definitive answer is frustrating, because I can’t put it behind me. It’ll just be gnawing at me, now, always at the back of my mind.

To be clear, if I did find people that critiqued the Redford, I certainly wouldn't be able to take the high ground; I’m probably exactly the type of person they’d criticize the Redford as overrepresenting. While I’m young and Black, I’m not a part of the Old Redford Community. While I was born in Detroit, I wasn’t raised there. I’m from the suburbs and for years, I went to the neighborhood just for the Redford, being blind the other establishments. I had never drank a cup at the Motor City Java House; I never had one of Sweet Potato Sensations’ treats or sandwiches. Hearing people talking about the community was eye-opening for me, because I never knew about it. I had tunnel vision that led me straight to the Redford, leaving me blind to the establishments and the community surrounding it. Janice and Roy knew about Blightbusters while I only found out about it through this research process. I’m ultimately left feeling guilty and I wonder if the onus is on the theatre itself for support of the community or its patrons. There’s only so much a theatre can do if the guests harbor a certain attitude. That said, in not highlighting those who take issue from the Redford, it feels like I’m letting them down and not allowing them to air their grievances, essentially erasing them from the conversation. Their criticism was essentially what led me to write this in the first place. I’d feel like I’m not doing right by them if I throw up my hands and say “looks like those people don’t exist anyway.” This piece was supposed to be their forum and a way to ensure that the place that I love can grow to be the best that it possibly can be, but that, obviously, isn’t possible. Instead, I’d like this piece to be an invitation for the people my advisor hinted towards; those who have some critiques for the Redford.

For what it’s worth, while I haven’t found someone who feels negatively towards the Redford, my research makes me aware of what they’d object to. The patrons tend to be older and classic Black-centric movies are rarely shown. Perhaps the films shown can be tweaked without alienating the current audience. Perhaps not. All I know is that if one were to call it as they see it, based on movie selection alone, someone could make a decent argument for the Redford being not as inclusive as it could be.

I was planning on saying that “the Redford’s doors are open and the show goes on,” but that COVID-SUV came swerving right back around. Due to skyrocketing coronavirus cases, Michigan theaters have found themselves closed once more. Given that the Redford has survived the pandemic thus far, I’m cautiously optimistic about its chances. Still, even if the show will go on, who can say for sure how much film this reel has left? In about seven years, the Redford Theater will be celebrating its centennial. I wonder who the guests will be: will they be those wistful of the past, seeing it as a relic, or will they be those with new memories of the theater seeing it as a bastion of a community? Will new blood flow in the veins of the theater, enough to support the theater through another hundred years? The theatre is a bit of a hidden gem; I only found out about it through happenstance and its online presence is lacking for such a unique locale. Hidden gems are great for making you feel special, but can be disastrous for things that rely on community. Will there be enough so-called “Old Souls” in the future to keep the theater going? Will those against the theater ask for others to withdraw support? I don’t want my memories of the theater to turn to ashes. I want the Redford to do whatever it can to not only survive, but to thrive. I want everyone to know about it. I want my children to have the opportunity to visit the theater as well; not simply so I can tell them “this is where I went when I was younger,” but so that I can show them my name on the plaque, so that I can encourage them to make the theatre their own as I did.

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