September 21, 2007

Editorial:

Hispanics Not In Ken Burns World

Several months ago the highly anticipated Ken Burns documentary on World War II, “The War” was screened for a select few. What came out of the screening was the fact that there was not one Hispanic documented during the 14 hour marathon. Not one mention of the more than 500,000 Latinos who served during WWII. Not one mention of the 13 Hispanic Heroes who were awarded Medal of Honors or the 70 Army Distinguished Service Crosses. The fact that Hispanics were totally omitted from the documentary outraged the Hisapnic community.

To add insult to injury the documentary had been scheduled to begin airing during Hispanic Heritage Month on September 23.

If Ken Burns was just another filmmaker trying to make his way, using his own money, or the money of private investors, then this would not have attracted much attention. But Burns is not just some other filmmaker and he is not using private funding he is funded by tax payer dollars and his miniseries will be shown on public broadcasting stations across the nation.

Ken Burns is recognized as one of the premier documentarians of our time with award winning miniseries such as “The American Civil War,” “Baseball,” and “Unforgivable Blackness,” all receiving Emmy Awards. His work had been noted for their detail, historical accuracy, and cinematography.

This omission of Hispanics outraged many and a grassroots protest sprung up, primarily led by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the University of Texas and project director for U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project. A loose knit coalition was created with the help of thousands of emails from one coast to the other. This coalition became the “Defend the Honor” campaign. Rivas-Rodriguez, Gus Chavez of San Diego and others went to PBS and asked for changes with the documentary and the inclusion of Hispanics.

The calls for change in the documentary went largely ignored by PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger who cited Burn’s artistic freedom. Funny how artistic freedom is used to excuse Burns in this instance but is not afforded when public funded art offends conservatives. Kerger was a darling of Republicans at the time of her appointment as CEO, they felt that PBS programming had become too liberal.

Burns as it turns out, has a blind spot when it comes to Hispanics. Not only did his WWII documentary not have any Hispanics in it, the accompany book with the film made no mention of Hispanics in the 415 pages of history about WWII. In Burns’ other documentaries “Jazz” and “Baseball” there to he ignored the contributions of Hispanics.

This WWII documentary will become a part of the historical and educational perspective, it is already associated with and a part of The Library of Congress. As a part of the educational experience Hispanics will not be a part of the discussion. Their experiences and contributions from Burns’ perspective, and endorsed by PBS, will be reduced to a footnote. After much public pressure, two Latino interviews were tagged on, as was one Native American interview, for a total of 28 minutes.

While Burns deserves his fair share of criticism for his jingoistic view of the world, PBS must bear the brunt of the wrath from the Hispanic communities for this slap in the face for this biased view of history.

From the outset PBS and Paula Kerger downplayed the whole issue, not taking this affront as a serious issue. Taking one meeting with the Defend The Honor Coalition Kerger basically told them that there was nothing PBS could do, this is where artistic control came into play. But as a public entity that is supported by taxpayers’ dollars, that stands on integrity; it was incumbent upon PBS to take this issue seriously. It was incumbent upon PBS to hold Burns to the parameters of the grant that paid for this documentary where it was stated that the film “will celebrate American diversity.” Instead PBS hoped that the controversy would just blow over!

The controversy has not blown over but has gathered steam over the months and comes to a head September 23 when Hispanics across the nation will protest the first showing of the Burns’ mini-series at PBS stations. In San Diego on Sunday September 23, 2007 from 2 – 3:30 P.M. on the public sidewalk in front of KPBS Studios at San Diego State University, the Defend the Honor Campaign will have an afternoon of Remembrance and Honor in tribute to the Latinos and Latinas of the WWII generation.

It is time to take a stand and say YA BASTA! Boycott the Burns documentary, the corporate sponsors, and PBS for this farce and insult of the Hispanic community!

***

Helpful links about the boycott and the movie include:

Defend the Honor - http://www.defendthehonor.org/

US Latinos and Latinas in World War II - http://www.lib.utexas.edu/exhibits/ww2latinos/about.html

The Library of Congress - http://www.loc.gov/index.html

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