Deerfoot of the Diamond is a mixed-format documentary collage about the career and legacy of Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play major league baseball. Born on the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Old Town, Maine, Sockalexis was signed by the Cleveland Spiders in 1897, becoming the first recognized minority in the sport, fifty years before Jackie Robinson. The center fielder’s mythic talent and blazing speed led to a meteoric rise to fame during his rookie year. However, Sockalexis was treated poorly by the press and faced virulent racism and mockery wherever he went. His subsequent battles with alcohol and injury ended his career almost as quickly as it began. But despite having played less than one full season in the majors, he was such a phenomenon that he inspired the Cleveland team to change its name to “The Indians,” a moniker that lasted for well over a century. Then, after a wave of social justice protests, the Cleveland team finally retired the name and mascot in 2021. Nearly forgotten for over a hundred years, Louis Sockalexis has suddenly been thrust back into the news. He represents a vital chapter in baseball history, his legacy ripe for reexamination. But how do we sort truth from myth, fact from fiction, and look at his life with the benefit of perspective? Was it really a personal weakness that cut his career short, or was it the effect of racism? And can a team name like “The Indians” ever truly honor Native Americans? In the end, the story of Louis Sockalexis is tragic but essential, because in spite of his short yet fascinating career, the effects of his legacy still resonate today.
Directed by Lance Edmands (USA)