Rosenstein's poignant, hour-long documentary makes clear the lunacy of sports teams' appropriating Native American names and symbols. In taking up the battle against nicknames like Braves and Chiefs, Rosenstein uses footage of mascots and white fans inanely dancing around dressed as Indians. He also exposes the arguments of people like Rich Winkel, an Illinois state representative who in 1995 sponsored a bill that would keep Chief Illiniwek as the University of Illinois's mascot. "We have a rich heritage in this country, especially over the past few decades, of protecting minority rights," Winkel says. "But minority rights aren't always right."
Not all defenders of the Fighting Illini are so diplomatic. "This school," says a tailgater, "shouldn't cave in to out-of-state foreigners."
The star of the film is Charlene Teters, a Spokane Indian who in 1989, while a student at Illinois, had the misfortune of taking her two children to an Illini basketball game. At halftime she first witnessed Illiniwek, a man costumed in a gaudy feather headdress, leather skins and a year's supply of facial paint. His dance—sort of M.C. Hammer meets Richard Simmons meets Biff the town idiot—was supposed to recall an Indian ritual. It failed miserably. "My kids just sank in their seats," Teters says in a tearful interview. "I saw my daughter trying to become invisible."
The rest of the documentary zooms in on Teters's stirring rise from neophyte protester to, as an ally puts it, "the Rosa Parks of Native Americans." That may be hyperbole, but there is powerful footage of Teters facing fellow Illinois students as they chant, "Pick another school!" Rosenstein, a novice filmmaker who began the project while studying at Illinois, deftly mixes such charged moments with evocative black-and-white photographs of Native Americans.
Since 1989, due in part to Teters's persistence, at least six colleges have changed their nicknames, and now even nonbelievers are hard-pressed to rebut Teters's point—though they try. "We don't do any kind of mascot antics," says Jeff Beckham, who wore the Illiniwek get-up in '94. "We keep everything very honorable and dignified."