If the 2020 NFL season kicks off on schedule, the Washington Redskins and the league will be met with some added pressure from the new documentary “Imagining the Indian” that aims to change the team name that’s long been considered a “racial, derogatory, disparaging slur.”
“Imagining the Indian” is currently in production from director Aviva Kempner and The Ciesla Foundation, which has worked to erase the history of Native American names, logos and mascots from sports teams and beyond, though as it’s named in the first trailer for the film, the “R-word” has still persisted.
“When you think of a brave or a warrior, do you think of somebody who is the director of a museum? Do you think of somebody who runs a tribe, who runs multi-million dollar industries? Of course you don’t,” a subject in the documentary says in the trailer. “It dehumanizes human beings.”
“Imagining the Indian” connects the racism faced by Natives to the institutional racism being protested on the streets today, examining how the Gen-Z generation specifically has mobilized to make the country more inclusive.
Native filmmaker Ben West co-directed the documentary with Kempner, and Sam Bardley co-produces the movie along with Washington Post columnist and ESPN contributor Kevin Blackistone. The film’s executive producer is Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
“I remember walking through downtown Minneapolis to the Metrodome in 1992 to see Washington play Buffalo in the Super Bowl,” co-producer Blackistone said in a statement. “I saw a bunch of people identifying themselves as Native protesting the Washington team name as a slur against them. It was the first time I’d thought about that. But it led me to understand the need to change the name. Because what happened to Native folk on this continent over 500 years ago was the seed for the racism we as black people continue to fight today in protest against police killings of black men like George Floyd.”
“I believe that my purpose on this earth is to make films that counter negative stereotypes,” Kempner added in a statement. “I am turning my attention to the insidious use of Native Americans in mascoting and the underlying racism behind these symbols.”
“I feel a sense of both honor and obligation in highlighting the vital work Suzan Harjo and others have undertaken for decades and the activism they have inspired for the next generations,” co-director West said in a statement.
“As commissioner [Roger] Goodell and other power brokers in the sports world are finally affirming the humanity of black people, after years of outcry and protests from black athletes and journalists, maybe it would be in their best interest to be proactive in ending Native mascoting, which many feel is dehumanizing,” Bardley said in a statement.
Kempner is the director of “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” and the documentary “Rosenwald.”
A 17-minute work-in-progress version of “Imagining the Indian” will screen at film festivals until the film is completed in 2021.