PBS agrees to amend Ken Burns' documentary series on World War II to include Latino stories
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK, April 11, 2007 (AP): PBS promised Wednesday to amend Ken Burns' upcoming documentary series on World War II to include stories about Latino veterans after activists complained he ignored their contributions to the U.S.-American effort.
Burns has also agreed to hire a Latino producer to help create the additional content, PBS said.
The 14-hour documentary, “The War,” is scheduled to premiere in September, 2007. PBS hopes it becomes as popular as Burns' ``The Civil War'' was more than a decade ago, and plans to sell a companion book and DVDs.
PBS executives tried to pull off the delicate trick of satisfying a disgruntled constituency while not alienating Burns, its best-known filmmaker. The initial reaction was mixed.
``I think this is a terrific, terrific win-win situation,'' Burns told The Associated Press.
Burns' film focuses on the wartime experiences of people from four communities across the country—Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Luverne, Minn. He tells their individual stories about combat and how the war changed lives.
From the start, Burns said he never tried to be comprehensive; it was just too big a story. Rather, he wanted to tell about human experiences that everyone affected by the war could relate to.
But when some Latino groups learned that Burns had not spoken to any Latino veterans, they began applying pressure to PBS to change the documentary to reflect their stories.
Burns' film, which is already done, will remain intact. Instead, he will seek out Latino veterans to interview about their experiences to run either during breaks or at the end of each hour. The details still haven't been worked out. Stories about American Indians will also be included.
``We're not changing the film,'' he said. ``Think of it as an amendment to the Constitution.''
Paula Kerger, PBS president, said she did not tell Burns what to do—the solution was his.
``I fully respect an artist's right to tell his story and, frankly, if he did not want to do this, I would not have forced him to do this,'' she said.
PBS to air two Latino related programs
PBS also said it will soon air two other World War II-related programs: the film “Justice for My People: The Dr. Hector P. García Story” and a “Bill Moyers Journal” that features an interview with Medal of Honor winner José López.
The change represents ``a big victory for the Latino community,'' said Marta Garcia, head of the New York chapter of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and participant in the ``Defend the Honor'' campaign that sprouted around this issue.
``The unity in the Latino community on this issue was unprecedented,'' said Gus Chávez, a World War II veteran and retired university administrator. ``We were part of a movement that demonstrated how powerful our Latino community could be when we work together in common cause.''
But Antonio Gil Morales, national commander of the veterans group American GI Forum, said his group's foremost concern was not addressed adequately. He wants changes within the body of the film itself.
Kerger said she's learned a lot in the past few weeks and became convinced that the Latino experiences were important stories that needed to be told. PBS, which was also pressured by the Congressional Hispanic caucus on the issue, needs to respond to community concerns, she said.
PBS has encouraged its local stations to create their own World War II-connected programming to accompany the series.
Burns called it the best film he's ever made.
``We knew that there would be lots of untold stories and that's exactly what happened,'' he said. ``Rather than turn this into an argument that has no end we basically had not an argument but a dialogue.''