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Westside needs its own screens

Lawrence Toppman
ltoppman@charlotteobserver.com
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

Clarence Abbott, who grew up in Charlotte but now lives in Anson County, has written me a long and touching letter about going to the movies in Charlotte as young man.

He and his friends – whom he calls “big dreamers who had nothing but our imaginations” – used to attend the Dilworth Theatre on South Boulevard, soaking up the kung fu and blaxploitation movies of the 1970s. He lamented that the children of today are “being cheated out of one of the greatest social experiences.”

His letter set my brain churning. He may be wrong about the social aspect: Movies will always be an affordable escape for teens, and teens will always (and rightly) want to get away from parents on occasion. But those who cocoon at home are indeed missing a vital shared experience.

Then I thought about the Dilworth, which closed after a suspicious fire in 1984. I'd gone there a few times, and I was reminded by this letter that even the humblest of locales could instill a love for the greatest art form of the 20th century. Maybe “Enter the Dragon” wasn't “Casablanca,” but it lit Abbott's fire.

Third, I realized that folks on Charlotte's largely African American westside have had no theater to serve them now for two decades. (The talk of a Magic Johnson theater at Freedom Drive was just that: talk.) With the price of gas, what it is, it's a shame that black moviegoers have to drive to Carolina Pavilion or Northlake. Is it time for an entrepreneur to step in?

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