Magic Johnson’s 9 screen theater has been the only functioning movie house in Harlem since 2000. That will change with the arrival of Imagenation’s Soul Cinema which plans to be operational by the end of 2007. Imagenation plans to open an independent 3 screen art house cinema with a cafe in the new Kalahari development on 116th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues. Although the theater will not be in the prime foot traffic heavy 125th Street corridor, the Kalahari will offer a custom designed, state-of-the-art facility with the added bonus of eliminating the headache of bidding for space in the historic Loews Victoria 5 Theatre.
Established in 1997 by Moikgantsi Kgama and Gregory Gates, Imagenation has actively promoted independent black films through screenings, film festivals and most recently the Revolution Awards. This year’s awards were part of an effort help raise $1 million towards the new cinema tentatively called the Micheaux Film Center. Oscar Micheaux, for whom the center is named, is known in film circles as the founding father of independent black cinema.
Business and marriage partners, Kgama and Gates have envisioned this project since they started Imagenation almost 10 years ago. They promoted their vision through community events and poety readings, hosted by Gates, throughout New York. Within the last few years they have been responsible for organizing a successful film festival that is now an integral part of Harlem Week.
Unlike the Magic Johnson Theaters, Imagenation will not focus on blockbuster hits like the recent Mission Impossible 3 premiere. Instead their mission is to "counteract negative images and stereotypes that are propagated about people of color, through mass media; and, to establish a chain of independent art-house cinemas dedicated to cinema of the African Diaspora." With the support of grassroots artists including Erykah Badu, Chuck D, India.Arie, Dead Prez, Roger Guenveur Smith, Talib Kweli, Malik Yoba and Dream Hampton, their mission is definitely possible.