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More Than a Word: A Film About Native American-based Sports Mascots and the Washington R*dskins

2017
Distributed by Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St., Northampton, MA 01060; 800-897-0089
Produced by John and Kenn Little for Black Tongue Dakota Media
Directed by John and Kenn Little
DVD, color, 70 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Native Americans, Racism, Sports


Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 1/2/2018

Native Americans have fought in the courts since 1992 to have the Washington NFL team disallow the use of its trademarked name Redskins. Initially, an appeals board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sided with the Native Americans, agreeing that the term “redskins” was historically a disparaging and offensive epithet. That ruling was overturned on appeal, and the Washington team continues to market the team as Redskins. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the suit in 2009. A Supreme Court decision in the case of Maytal v. Tam regarding the Slants Asian-American rock group forced the withdrawal of a 2014 lawsuit, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., regarding the Redskins name.

Through the use of archival still and moving images combined with contemporary interviews with the Native American plaintiffs, academic historians, and Washington football fans, the filmmakers supply the viewer with a comprehensive overview of the interpretation of the term “redskin.” Many who grew up on cartoon, TV and motion picture interpretations of “Indians” don’t recognize “redskin” as a racial slur originally referring to the bloody body parts of dead Native Americans redeemed for bounty payments. Those who brought the trademark lawsuits were confronted by death threats on e-mail and social media. Was this racism masquerading as fan loyalty? Surely seems so.

Caricatures of Native Americans still abound in college and professional sports. In Washington, some enlightened fans have become activists encouraging fans to urge the owners to change the team name. As Amanda Blackhorse, member of the Navajo Nation, points out, “Native Americans addressing the mascot issue are also addressing their reaction to colonialism.” Many of us just didn’t know ... More Than a Word is highly recommended to general audiences. This is an excellent, even-handed treatment of a long-standing dispute. Filmmakers John and Kenn Little, enrolled members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, deliver it with authenticity.