The Black experience in the Midwest: Columbus native’s documentary to premiere at Amplify film festival

Smaller-town America needs its turn in the racial spotlight, as Alyse Tucker Bounds sees it. And the 24-year-old biracial Columbus native and Indianapolis resident will give it precisely that this weekend via the free, inaugural Amplify Columbus Film Festival at YES Cinema in downtown Columbus.

She will do so through her 37-minute documentary “Crossroads Stories,” opening at 5 p.m. Saturday and featuring interviews with six local Black residents sharing their stories and three others discussing racial justice in Bartholomew County and how to get involved. To hear her passion, one would sense that it was far easier for her to spring into action last year than to sit back and bemoan the nation’s racial and ethnic divide.

“This past year was a huge moment for racial justice and for racial equity, and for conversations about policing and what it’s like to be a Back person in this country — what it used to look like, what it looks like now, and how much work we need to do,” Tucker Bounds said.

Focusing on Columbus and Bartholomew County is significant, she said.

“My Dad (Al Tucker) and I were discussing this,” she said, “and we were both frustrated that the story we always hear (on race) is metropolitan. It’s New York, it’s LA. Those are the stories that are on the news.

“ … But what I really want to highlight is the Black experience. And not just the overall Black experience, but the Black experience specifically here in the (rural) Midwest, which is generally very different from the Black experience in the big city. That’s the goal.”

She praised director Ryan Furr for his work on the project. Tucker Bounds came up with the idea, wrote the script, crafted the interview questions and the overall story.

“And Ryan made it all come to life,” she said. “I’m not a film director and can’t edit and create and do what he can do.”

What the local subjects in the film did was focus in on personal struggles with race and racism. The six sharing their stories are Al Tucker, John Bundick, Celeste Nudi, Nia Omega, Ridge Harris and Alfonso Wadholm. The three discussing their involvement in local racial and social justice are Pastor Johnnie Edwards of the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP; Kimberly Easton of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.; and Mikala Lomax of the local chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice.

“To hear some of these people talk so emotionally about what their raw (racial) experiences have been in their hometown just because of the color of their skin is devastating,” Tucker Bounds said. “It was a very emotional experience for me. Especially when you recognize the people and hearing them tell you of their disappointing experiences that have not stopped — that hurts.

“And you want to change something when you hear that.”

One painful segment includes Omega summarizing her view of last year’s national racial reckoning that seemed to reach a peak with the death of Black resident George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department.

“In 2020, seeing the outright injustice, and then seeing people so comfortable doing nothing about it, has never been more hurtful,” Omega said on camera.

The film strikes an interesting balance when Tucker Bounds’ subjects, including her own father, carefully indicate that racism stretches beyond the boundaries of white residents view of Blacks.

“Most people assume certain things about Black people,” her father said on camera. “And most Black people assume certain things about Black people.”

His daughter reacted to that on social media with a simple solution: “What if we normalized not making assumptions at all unless they’re good?”

Though Tucker Bounds and Furr have completed the local film, they believe their work easily could continue on an entire Crossroads Stories series focusing on smaller communities nationwide on a national platform such as as Netflix.

“I feel we could get just tons of traction on this type of project,” Tucker Bounds said. “I think it’s kind of an untouched idea.”

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"Crossroads Stories" will be shown free at 5 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday via the Amplify Columbus Film Festival at YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St. in downtown Columbus. Masks are required.

The African American Fund of Bartholomew County and The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County are the main sponsors of the festival and also sponsors of "Crossroads Stories."

To register for one of the 60 limited seats for each showing:

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To learn more about the film festival, check out Thursday’s GO! section in The Republic.