GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Juneteenth comedy based and shot in Grand Rapids is now playing on the big screen.
Created and produced by Grand Rapids native Lisa Mathis, “Block Party” is about a recent Harvard graduate who puts her career on hold to save her grandmother’s historic Juneteenth block party.
Mathis said the idea for the film came to her during the pandemic, as she longed for the sense of togetherness she felt growing up in her Grand Rapids neighborhood.
“All of the sudden a light bulb moment went off and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to write this movie “Block Party”‘ and I knew it had to be based in the Martin Luther King Park Neighborhood in Grand Rapids because so many amazing characters I’ve met there throughout my lifetime,” she said.
Mathis said she used to spend every Sunday at Martin Luther King Park.
“People would bull out their barbeques and someone would pull out a boombox and it would just be like a block party, every Sunday at the park,” she said.
Bringing her vision to life, the movie was filmed in Grand Rapids during the fall of 2021.
The star-studded cast including Antoinette Robertson, Margaret Avery and Luenell created buzz while on set in the neighborhood.
“They would sit and watch us,” Luenell said. “They knew my name from like two blocks away and were hollering and waving.”
Luenell’s character, a salon owner named Debora, was inspired by Mathis’ cousin who runs House of Style Barber and Beauty on Division Avenue.
“It was so much fun, I got to see what people think of me as a person,” Debora Reece said about inspiring the character in the film.
Reece’s salon was the backdrop for scenes in the movie, with friends and colleagues featured as extras.
The movie is produced by Branch Out Productions, a female- and Black-owned production company founded by Mathis in 2019.
“Our mission is to bring more diverse content to the entertainment business but also bring more diverse productions into Grand Rapids,” Mathis said.
For a list of showtimes and theaters playing “Block Party,” go to juneteenthblockparty.com. The film will also be available for streaming on BET+ on June 16.