‘Imagining the Indian’ Summarizes the History and Fight Against Racial Mascots

Ulises Duenas


As the fight against systemic racism continues, one issue that has existed for decades is using Native peoples as mascots. It’s a tradition that’s caused a lot of pain and debate in America and as Indigenous American groups continue to advocate and protest against it, many groups across the country continue the practice. Imagining the Indian (currently available on DVD and streaming) is a documentary that explores the history, impact, and current struggles of this issue.


The film starts by delving into why there’s a disconnect between indigenous peoples and everyone else – most of which dates back to the portrayals of Natives in the early 20th-century films and serials. They were portrayed as either noble savages or backward brutes, and the women were always oversexualized. The early section of the film that portrays all this does a great job of showing why images of Natives were used as mascots or in ads to begin with and why it started the process of “othering” them in America. 



Even younger generations of Indigenous Americans grew up being exposed to these images as some of the only representations of their people in American culture. It might take up a large chunk of the film, but it’s necessary in order to understand why sports teams like the Blackhawks and Redskins are offensive. The portrayals are not only inaccurate but dehumanizing, and it leads to people thinking that Indigenous Americans look or behave the same way. 


The direction and editing in this documentary follow modern standards and use historical footage mixed with testimonials. It’s quite effective and delivers a lot of information in about 90 minutes, but it also doesn’t stand out visually. The material is a tad dry in the latter half of the film when it goes over the legal battles against the mascots. It does illustrate that the fight to ban those mascots has been going on longer than many realize, but it’s not as compelling as the first chunk of the documentary. 


However, Imagining the Indian does a great job of providing context for an issue that caused a lot of debate a few years ago when the Washington Redskins had to change their name. It’s also an issue that people continue to fight and education is a part of the process of changing people’s minds. As of this writing, fans eagerly await the Super Bowl clash between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the latter a team that has held onto its name, despite other teams changing theirs.

Advocates like Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse have been in this fight for decades and their passion and pain really come through in this film. I can safely say that Imagining the Indian work does a great job of delivering this relevant issue concisely. 



Author Bio:

Ulises Duenas is a senior writer and film critic at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


Photo Credits: David (Flickr, Creative Commons); All Pro Reels (Wikimedia Commons).


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