Monday, August 16, 2021

'Respect' for NextAct Cinema

Although a tad late, it was most likely an article I stumbled across recently that brought me to learn of NextAct Cinema--Maryland's only minority owned, independent, boutique-style movie theater. So, as this self-ordained cinephile prepared for the release of the highly-anticipated Aretha Franklin biopic, "Respect," I knew exactly where I wanted to be sitting to see it. Nestled northwest of Baltimore in the quaint suburb of Pikesville, NextAct opened its doors in March 2019 by brothers Anthony Fykes and Robert Wright, who wanted to elevate their love of cinema normally enjoyed in their at-home theatre room to a larger platform. That platform became a twin screen, 86-total-adjustable-leather-seat movie house complete with in-seat dining and an array of food menu options (in addition to the traditional movie fare of popcorn and candy) including crab cakes and personal pizzas to salads and quesadillas to soups and deli sandwiches courtesy of the adjoined Pike's Diner and Crab House. 

However, the brick and mortar that houses NextAct is not new to the cinematic landscape, as the building was once home to Pikes Theatre, which opened in 1938 and continued to show movies until closing in 1984 and transforming itself into a restaurant/catering business that also closed in 2004. Pikes reopened as a movie theater from 2013 to 2016 before closing its doors once again until Fykes and Wright brought their dream to reality and the rest, as they say, is Black history. 

Co-owners, Anthony Fykes and Robert Wright
A Huffington Post article on NextAct Cinema stated that according to the Motion Picture Association of America, "the number of frequent African-American moviegoers soared from 3.8 million in 2015 to 5.6 million in 2016. However, many black communities across the country are 'cinema deserts' and lack any movie theaters at all, much less any that are black-owned," thus making NextAct timely, relevant, and much needed. In fact, in a March 2020 Washington Post article, Fykes stated, "There are only two other black-owned theaters that we know of. One is in Richmond and one is in Las Vegas." The Huffington Post article went on to state, "even though black-owned movie theaters are rare today, there is a long history of successful theaters that were catered to African-American patrons. Those theaters not only served as places for black people to watch movies but as communal spaces when they were being excluded." Because of this, it's no surprise that Fykes and Wright have also used their theater space for live jazz, happy hours, karaoke, comedy shows, and birthday parties as an effort to extend its reach and further engage the community. 

Therefore, as I comfortably settled into my seat, awaiting my turkey club sandwich and fries to be brought to me while engaging in small banter with other patrons who'd reserved a seat for the Saturday 1 p.m. showing of "Respect," it was not lost on me that I was there to see a movie about one who broke barriers and opened doors, in a theatre operated by two black men who are committed to doing the same. Whether on the screen, behind the camera or, in this case, behind the proverbial theater curtain, supporting NextAct Cinema was a wonderful reminder that there are many parts to play in moving minority entrepreneurship as well as the culture forward. Fykes and Wright have placed their names in the history books and called "action" on their own dreams, while serving as an inspiration to everyone who enters their theater doors with a dream of their own to do the same.

NextAct Cinema
921 Reisterstown Road
Pikesville, MD 21208

Sources: Black Enterprise; The Baltimore Sun; The Huffington Post

Photo Credits: N/A