Defend the Honor has a comprehensive listing of what’s happening with the Ken Burns story. Quotes, links, news of the Hector Galan hire, and a bottom line assessment regarding Burns’s flip flopping on whether or not he will change his doc: “so until the explanations go beyond the technical, the Defend the Honor core group is urging individual to continue voicing their concerns.”
It’s a much better job that I can do and it's included at the end of this post. For now, let me reserve this main portion to snarky comments about New York Post writer Adam Buckman.
In his latest column, after five or six lauditory paragraphs describing the series as the "best WWII doc ever," and Ken Burns the greatest American filmmaker since Orson Welles, Buckman then finishes with a lazy argument based on that tired and stupid racist comeback: "if you don't like it here, go back to Mexico."
Various groups representing Latinos - among them the National Hispanic Media Coalition - recently won concessions from PBS after protesting that the miniseries (apparently) does not include material detailing the experiences of Latino-Americans in World War II.
Earlier this month, when PBS and Burns announced they would produce a raft of material on the Latino war experience that would air adjacent to episodes of the miniseries - essentially caving in to the protestors - the NHMC gloated. In an interview with me, an official of the group declared "an unprecedented victory" in an effort that amounts to an act of trespassing on the hard work, great care and due diligence expended by Burns, who is one of the nation's most honored artists.
He is the one who sifted through thousands of hours of films, pored over thousands of still photos, performed hundreds of hours of planning and research, conducted hundreds of interviews, and oversaw the assembly of thousands of elements into a coherent whole.
The protestors expended none of these efforts, nor, by their own blithe admission, have they even seen the finished product that angered them so much. Instead, they bullied their way into a production that wasn't theirs.
It makes me wonder: If the story of the Latino community in World War II is so important, why can't the protestors finance and produce their own TV show?
Uh, yeah, right Adam. Latinos are financing this project. It's paid for in part by PBS, our tax dollars at work, and our network on your TV.
Quote of the week: from PBS ombudsman Michael Getler:
"Burns and PBS, after meeting with Hispanic groups and activists, agreed that additional content will be created and added within what PBS called the “footprint” of the program. That is a terrible word that nobody understands except TV insiders and conveys the sense of not really leveling with people. That’s my view, anyway. What it means is that new material will be included in the air time that the programs are allotted but will not be included in the already completed original film."
SUMMARY: Last week, PBS announced it was hiring Latino documentarian Hector Galan to work with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to incorporate a Latino perspective to The War, the 14-hour documentary about Americans in WWII. Galan was introduced at a meeting in Washington, D.C., with several organizations and representatives of PBS, CPB, elected federal officials Ken Burns. The meeting, Tuesday morning, April 17, lasted for nearly two hours and Burns explained his vision and his ideas for the inclusion of the Latino perspective. Galan discussed his own initial impressions of how he might contribute to The War. The understanding was that the Latino experience would be integrated in a seamless way. A second working meeting with Galan, Burns, Novick, Kerger and Gus Chavez and Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the Defend the Honor campaign, was held later in the day. That meeting began to flesh out other ideas.
On Wednesday, April 18, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a round-table with several organizations involved in the Ken Burns issue. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, asked for recommendations of the various groups.
A story in the Washington Post on Wednesday led with the sentence: "Filmmaker Ken Burns agreed yesterday to re-cut his PBS documentary on World War II to include footage about the contributions of latio and American Indian service members -- and not to present the material apart from his 14 1/2-hour series." But in the next day's Post, the story was that Burns would not recut the film.
Rivas-Rodriguez on Friday spoke to Lynn Novick and asked for clarification. But the explanations by Novick, and by Kerger, in a letter later on Friday to various people asking for clarification were anything but. So, until the explanations go beyond the technical, the Defend the Honor core group is urging individuals to continue voicing their concerns.
The Defend the Honor core group expects that that this week, Galan will have a firmer understanding of how much change will be incorporated and what form that inclusion will take. It will take its cues from Galan, an Austinite who has distinguished himself with excellent productions that include "Los Mineros," "Chicano!," "Accordian Dreams," etc.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to Kerger on April 20, 2007, announcing that its members had formally adopted the position: "The only appropriate course of action is that the documentary entitled 'The War' fully incorporate within the body of the documentary the integral role of Hispanics."
Also, media attention in the Austin American-Statesman, the Daily Texan (at UT-Austin), Newsweek, the Washington Post, the El Paso Times and others.
BACKGROUND: THE WAR, a 14-hour documentary on WWII, is scheduled to air in September on PBS. Director Ken Burns and associates took six years to interview more than 40 individuals in four communities (Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota). The documentary features individuals in those communities, with two ethnic/racial groups given special consideration: Japanese Americans and African Americans. The film has no reference to the Latino contribution. The documentary also has an accompanying book and educational materials. PBS officials say, in a news release: “Serving our mission to educate and inform, PBS’s goal for THE WAR is to reach into every home and classroom -- so together we can better understand what we as a nation experienced in those difficult years and what we as a nation accomplished.” Concerned individuals, including Rivas-Rodriguez and Chavez, and dozens across the country, have contacted PBS officials and Burns’ production company (Florentine Films) and told them that THE WAR is incomplete without the Latino experience.
This email is part of a weekly update on the efforts to secure representation of Latinos & Latinas of the WWII generation in THE WAR. Please see our new website at defendthehonor.org.
1. Newsweek magazine-- ran a story about the controversy (4-23-07). In it, writer Arian Campo-Flores
notes that "Burns's comments that the new material would be like "an amendment to the Constitution" rankled many. "I don't think of the Hispanic community as an amendment to anything," says Sen. Robert Menendez. "An addendum, in my mind, is not an appropriate response."
See the entire story here.
2. The Washington Post's Paul Farhi, wrote the two stories, one in which he said Burns would "re-edit" (4-18-07) and one, the following day (4-19-07), which said Burns would not re-edit the film. Farhi notes:
"Some of the disagreement over Burns's -- and PBS's -- intentions turns on small but critical semantic distinctions, particularly whether the unproduced new material will be a "part" of "The War," or instead air as a supplement."
Read the stories here, and here.
3. The El Paso Times Jake Rollow wrote a story (4-21-07) about the issue, including an interview with Livorio Correo, whose interview was being recorded by a free-lance documentary film producer, for airing as a supplement to The War. Rollow writes: "Correa's speech became gruff when asked what he thought of the issue. "Let me get this straight. I'm an American and proud of it and, by the grace of God, a Texan," he said. "I'm an American," Correa restated. "We earned it."
See the story here.
4. The Austin American-Statesman ran an unsigned editorial about the issue, (April 14, 2007). It lauds the development that PBS intends to include the Latino content: "Wonderful news for those of past, current and future generations who will benefit from learning about a history long surpressed or ignored."
See the editorial here.
5. The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin, wrote two stories about the issue. Reporter M.T. Elliott (April 11, 2007) points to Burns use of Census figures from 1940: "Defending the film, Burns cited census numbers from the 1940s, which report Hispanics as 1.4 percent of the U.S. population. The accuracy of census numbers from that era can be discerned from the discharge papers for Latino veterans, present in the archives of the oral history project. Many of the discharge papers in the project's archives list Latinos as white, Rivas-Rodriguez said."
See the story here.
Also, Elliott wrote a second story for the following day's paper (April 12, 2007), in which he quotes Raquel Garza, project manager for the U.S Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project: "It would be a shame if he did them such a disservice by just tacking them on," Garza said, adding she worried it would come off as, "These guys wanted me to include them, so here it is."
See the story here.