Bringing Hollywood Home

I’m excited that my first feature-length film is being released in actual movie theaters in the city of Detroit. I grew up here, but left in 1989 to attend film school in Los Angeles after graduating from Cass Tech High.

Although I’ve been gone, Detroit has NEVER been far from my heart and daily life. I root for the Lions, Pistons, Tigers and Red Wings, even in L.A. (Heck, the only time I go to live sports is when MY teams are there!) My goal in leaving was to tell stories about my life, my city and its people.

It was exciting becoming friends with John Singleton and working on his ’hood trilogy: “Boyz N the Hood,” “Poetic Justice” and “Higher Learning.” During the making of those films, I always dreamed about doing the same thing here.

But it would take a long time. The road toward that end was filled with twists, turns and detours, before culminating last summer. That’s when I finally got to direct a film in my hometown, ABOUT my hometown.

“CornerStore” tells the story of a day in the life of a store on Six Mile. It’s owned by a Black family, which makes it a rarity. Even more uncommon, owner Earl Jenkins (played by Roger Guenveur Smith of “Do the Right Thing,” “Deep Cover” and “American Gangster,” among other films) doesn’t accept food stamps or EBT public assistance.


His son Gerard (played by Lawrence Lamont Jenkins) dreams of leaving Detroit to become a chef. It’s a theme I can relate to, having wanted to leave and study the craft of filmmaking in California. I’ve learned a lot during my time in Los Angeles and wanted to bring some of that knowledge home. The generous incentives that were previously in place encouraged me.

“CornerStore” was shot on a very low budget and made by a cross section of Detroiters: Black, White, Asian, Chaldean, old, young, city and suburban. A third of the crew worked for nothing more than meals and the opportunity to get some experience in the film industry.

The crew was composed of 100 percent Michigan residents. To a lot of people’s amazement, 95 percent of cast members are Michiganders. Roger Guenveur Smith is the only out-of-town actor. The rest I “discovered” during casting sessions at the Westin Hotel in Southfield.

The film was funded by local investors, including Global Pictures, real estate investor Twan Williams and entrepreneur Robert Evangelista. Even in this bad economy, dreams can come true!

“CornerStore” is a comedy that also tries to sneak in some social commentary along the way about violence, drug use and unemployment. I grew up watching films at the Americana, the Northwest, the Mercury and the Westside drive-in. I wanted to make a film that the whole family could enjoy together while they beat the summer heat.

Tyler Perry has the ATL. Spike Lee represents Brooklyn. But is there really an African-American filmmaker riding for Detroit with each new release? It’s a niche my company, Shotown Pictures headquartered on Woodward in downtown Detroit, would love to fill. And this is the first test of that viability.

I know we can make this city great again. I’m not naïve enough to think a movie itself can provide solutions. But can’t showing a family working, living and laughing together while overcoming their problems, be a positive contribution?

I hope Detroiters will come out and see a film made in Detroit, by Detroit, for Detroit. Or will we all just settle for Michael Bay coming here every couple of years to blow up robots downtown?

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