More Than a Word with John & Kenn Little

Details

Biography
Topics
Art & Politics
Film & Video
Human Rights
Media
Multiculturalism
Native Americans
Programs for High School Students
Racism/Racial Justice
Sports
U.S. History
White Privilege
Youth/Student Activism

ABOUT THE FILM
More Than a Word offers a fascinating look inside the growing movement to change the name of the Washington R*dskins football team.

Directed by brothers John and Kenn Little, who are members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the film traces how the word “r*dskin” evolved from being a term of racist derision and slander to being embraced as the name of one of the NFL’s most beloved franchises. It also draws on the voices of Native American activists and scholars to place this controversy within the wider context of Native American history and racial stereotyping more generally.

More Than a Word (run time 70 minutes) is an ideal program for clarifying what’s truly at stake in contemporary debates about cultural appropriation and Native American-themed mascots. One or both of the filmmakers are available for post-screening discussions.



ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Brothers John Little and Kenn Little are originally from Denver, CO and are members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota.

John Little is currently a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. He recently completed his Master's Degree in History at The University of South Dakota and is currently pursuing his Educational Doctorate. His thesis was on the Lakota and the Vietnam War. His goals are to write Indigenous people into the historical narrative and help Native students into higher education. His main focus is on Native American veterans, music, cultural appropriation, and mascots.

Kenn Little is a graphic designer and filmmaker currently residing in Kansas City, MO. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design and New Media through Full Sail University. He has experience in print design, typography, digital design, music and video. He has filmed and edited several music videos and short films.

Testimonials

"More Than a Word delivers a compelling close-up of critiques and celebrations of the Washington Redskins and other indigenous-inspired mainstream representations. Through the creation of this urgent film and its eclectic array of personal interviews and archival media footage, Standing Rock Sioux filmmakers and brothers John Little and Kenn Little travel across Indian Country to listen to Native activists, artists, and scholars who represent indigenous self-determination in action and whose voices reveal that "Redskins" is far more than just a seven-letter word."
- Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera, Assistant Professor, Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, Faculty Affiliate, Native American and Indigenous Studies Program, University of Texas at Austin

More Than a Word makes crystal clear that the fight against Indian mascots is a central part of the wider struggle of Indigenous people for political, educational, and socio-economic justice today. From the Washington football team to Standing Rock, this important documentary shows that Indigenous activism and artistry are alive and well, and getting stronger by the day.”
- Dr. Kevin Bruyneel, Professor of Politics, Babson College

More Than A Word strips away the simple caricatures and lays bare the open and complex historical, social and cultural wounds that fester underneath the racial epithets and imagery used in sports mascots. It has captured the voice of a too often ignored people, and is a call for a realignment of how people of conscience demand social justice and equality in the realms of mainstream media and the wealthy sports industry.”
- Bryan Pollard (Cherokee), President of the Native American Journalists Association

"More Than a Word is more than wonderful. This profound and profoundly moving film delineates the harm done to all of us by depictions of Indigenous people as sports team mascots. It shows how Indigenous dispossession is an ongoing contemporary cultural process, not a finite and fixed past event. Most important, in teaching us to see, learn and think more complexly, More Than A Word also impels us to act, to live up to our obligations and responsibilities to reject all forms of denigration and dehumanization.”
- Dr. George Lipsitz, Professor of Black Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, Author of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

"An artistic, political, culturally relevant project from an indigenous perspective. In its final act, More Than a Word winds up — for my money — in one of the most important places we can find, and that’s to say: what’s next for indigenous people? What would happen if they took control over their own representations?"
- Dr. Joshua Nelson, Affiliated faculty, Department of Native American Studies, University of Oklahoma

"More than a Word is an important film, documenting the little-known and misunderstood history of a racial epithet that continues to be used to de-humanize and stereotype native peoples as savage, sub-humans fit only for caricature as sports mascots in the American racial imagination. Infuriating and provocative, like the "R" word itself, the film will leave you thinking about the words that are used as part of our everyday, casual conversations that perpetuate a hidden legacy of genocide and racial conquest without the slightest bit of hesitation or regret on the part of those who have most directly benefited from that legacy. In a time of heightened racial tensions brought on by certain of our own elected leaders and media personalities, More than a Word is more than a documentary about racist sports mascots. It's a film that speaks directly to who we are as a nation divided by race at this very moment in time. We are what we speak; the words we use to define others also define who we are, inside our own hearts and our own minds.”
- Dr. Robert Williams. E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law at The University of Arizona, Faculty Co-Chair, Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program

"John and Kenn Little’s documentary More Than A Word provides us with a contemporary and historical framework within which to discuss cultural and racial stereotypes, the thorny line between appropriation and appreciation, and why it matters. Jay Rosenstein, in 1997, produced In Whose Honor, a film highlighting the struggle of Charlene Teters, then a student at the University of Illinois against the school’s mascot “Chief Illiniwek.” Twenty years later, More Than A Word confirms the same arguments (“It’s an honor,” “there are more important issues,” etc.) are used to justify the continued use of racial stereotypes against American Indian people. The Little’s film, as it weaves together this historical and contemporary narrative, illuminates the social, political and economic landscape within which these stereotypes thrive. More Than A Word makes clear this struggle is part of a larger battle taking place in the cultural domain. It is, as Philip Deloria suggests in the film, a struggle to “contest the structure of domination.””
- Lucy Ganje, Professor Emerita of Art/Graphic Design at the University of North Dakota, Founder of UND’s Native Media Center

"A deeply informed tool for advocacy and resistance, More Than A Word makes a powerful statement about the systemic racism and historical and ongoing oppression of Native Americans in the United States. The voices of real contemporary people viscerally connect rhetoric and symbols with the concrete policies that continue to marginalize and denigrate indigenous peoples. Those who attend to this film gain new understanding and ability to disrupt colonial practices that persist in contemporary society.”
- Dr. Susan D. Ross, Professor of English at Washington State University

"More Than a Word highlights why it is essential to take action and eliminate racial epithets and images. A documentary that can facilitate discussion and address the harmful effects of mascots as well as social responsibility."
- Dr. Victoria Lapoe, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Ohio University, Board member for the Native American Journalists Association

"The essential and affecting documentary More Than a Word convincingly presents what Native activists protesting stereotypical mascots are up against: a powerful and wealthy sports franchise whose owners stoop low to rationalize their continued profiteering from a racist team name. We hear from Native activists about the continued damage caused by stereotypical images and from Washington R*dsk*ns supporters who argue blithely that they are merely “honoring” Native people. The recent controversy over athletes kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racism is indeed ironic considering that the Washington R*dsk*ns, Kansas City Chiefs, and Cleveland Indians, among other prominent teams, refuse to replace their own dehumanizing logos. This timely documentary is highly recommended.”
- Dr. Devon Mihesuah, Cora Lee Beers Price Teaching Professor in International Cultural Understanding at the University of Kansas

“This film is a wonderful account of the need to respect the rights of Indian people to live without racism. It should be seen by all people.”
- Dr. Dean Chavers, Founder/Director of Catching the Dream, Author of Racism in Indian Country

Speeches

Program includes the screening of the film (run time 70 minutes) followed by a discussion with one or both of the filmmakers, John and Kenn Little.

FILMMAKER'S STATEMENT
The issue surrounding the use of Native American themed sports names and mascots has gained much momentum and media attention within the last few years, especially following the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to revoke the registrations of six trademarks held by the Washington R*dskins football team.

As this surge in attention has thrust the issue into the national spotlight, it has created much division in public opinion. Much of this polarization is not only the result of the difference in opinion itself but also by the media coverage that has fueled those opinions.

Various organizations, for and against changing the name, have each utilized social media and news outlets to tell their side of the argument, but there has yet to be a definitive and objective source of information on the issue.

More Than a Word will explore and explain that the issue is about much more than a sports team’s name. For many Native Americans as well as supporters of the name, it is about identity. For many Native Americans it is about protecting an identity that they have watched nearly vanish along with the lands they once inhabited. For fans of the team, it is about protecting the tradition of a team many have identified with since childhood.

But who does Native American imagery belong to? Does it belong solely to Native Americans who have inhabited this continent since before America? Or does it belong to all citizens of America, a country founded on the appropriation of many cultures and races? Does a decision like the Trademark Office’s violate the freedoms of those Americans?

The most common defense used in support of the name is that it is intended to honor the proud heritage of Native American people, but this defense often seems juxtaposed with images of drunken fans in war paint and chicken feather war bonnets. These stereotypical images seem to have been pulled directly from old films and cartoons that have now been labelled politically incorrect, but has the damage already been done? Have decades of stereotypes conditioned society to think differently of Native Americans? Have these stereotypes conditioned Native Americans to think differently of themselves?

These are the questions that the film seeks to raise and address. As half Native American ourselves, enrolled in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, we have been exposed to the issue for most of our lives. For many Americans, however, the decision by the United States Patent Office was their first introduction to the fact that some Native Americans even took issue with the name. Many believe it to be a new issue that suddenly arose out of nowhere, but we know that the issue has been going on since the late 1960s. Being half Native American and half Caucasian has placed us in an interesting perspective. We have always felt as though we lived simultaneously in two very different worlds and that has allowed us to see and hear opinions on the issue that one might not hear otherwise. It is these opinions, collected from both sides, which have led us to believe that it is extremely important to have a definitive, unbiased source of information on the issue. We feel that, as Native Americans ourselves, we have been able to build trust and reach places that non-Native filmmakers may not be able to. We also feel that because we do not look overtly Native American, we have an advantage of being less threatening to non-Native supporters of the name who may otherwise feel intimidated speaking with Native Americans on an issue like this.

With the recent surge in attention and continuing shift in public opinion, we feel that is only inevitable that the name will most likely be changed, but it is the effects of that change that could have the most impact. The film will also examine recent cases of high schools that once held the Redskins name and changed it. These cases could give a possible precursor to the effects of such a change. In many of those case, the results were both positive and negative, with Native Americans reclaiming aspects of their identity but also having more animosity directed towards them by those who sought to keep the name. It is our intent that through an unbiased and thorough examination of the issue, people can come to an educated understanding of the issue that still exhibits respect for Native Americans regardless of how they feel about the use of the name.

Media
More Than a Word Trailer
More Than a Word Teaser