This Dominicana Opened the First Afro-Latina Owned Movie Theater in NYC
Tired of not seeing the voices, stories, and faces she wanted to see on the big screen, Emelyn Stuart decided to open her own movie theater in Brooklyn. And yes, there are fresh empanadas and tres leches cake baked by her own mami on site.
Back in 2018 when she decided to open Stuart Cinema, everybody told her she was crazy, and that movie theaters everywhere were closing, not opening. But that didn’t stop this Latina on a mission. “A movie theater is not just about movies,” she told mitú. “It’s a community place that can affect change and that’s what I’m building.”
Today, she is the first Black Latina to own an independent movie theater in New York, and soon the only one to open a multiplex with three screens in the neighborhood where she grew up, Sunset Park, where over 39 percent of the population is Latinx.
“I want to control the narrative so that I can choose to share our voices,” she said. “I want to have the power to create change.”
Beyond screening independent movies, big studio movies and hosting film festivals, she even started her own movie festival: Oktober Film Festival. Stuart also makes sure to have as many affordable or even free screenings thanks to her sponsors (you can find all the details and calendar on her Instagram).
During the pandemic, for example, she hosted screenings where people could rent the space to project and host remote baby showers or even funerals of their loved ones in different cities or countries.
She also offers discounted tickets for seniors and early birds ($8 tickets at 9 AM — where do we sign up?), and is in talks with Disney to get licensing to screen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in Spanish.
Before opening her own theater, Stuart had been in the film industry for many years financing and producing indie films. During those years she noticed how independent filmmakers struggle to afford places to screen their movies even after getting the funds to make them, and the idea for Stuart Cinema was born with the main goal of helping independent filmmakers have a place to showcase their work.
“Many independent filmmakers don’t even dream about the Oscars because they can’t afford to show their movie at a real theater,” she explained, and that is a requisite to be considered for a nomination.
By renting out her space for around $500 per screening, instead of the four-figure amounts big movie theaters charge, she makes dreaming accessible for independent filmmakers.
When they’re not screening independent movies, they run films that have just been in regular theaters. Film lovers and neighbors can also catch the blockbuster of the moment while tasting her delicious empanadas or, as they sometimes offer, shots and free coffee sponsored by brands. Because, you know? Dominicans always know how to make every event a fun one.
If you are not in NYC, you can also follow her journey and support her initiative on social media, where she hasn’t been getting anything but love and encouragement from Latinos and movie lovers all over the country.
“I worked right next door and came over for those empanadas every day! happy for your success!” wrote a regular client on Stuart’s TikTok.