Skip to comments.Burns documentary angers Latino veterans
Posted on 04/08/2007 1:00:19 PM PDT by CharentonChina
NEW YORK - Activists who believe Latinos deserve more recognition for their contributions during World War II have created an agonizing political problem for PBS and filmmaking star Ken Burns.
Several Latino leaders and military veterans, angry that Burns' high-profile documentary series "The War" includes no conversations with Latinos who fought, are demanding changes. PBS and Burns want to satisfy an important constituency, without the precedent of a filmmaker forced to change his vision due to a protest.
PBS chief executive Paula Kerger, after meetings with leaders including Congress' Hispanic caucus, has promised suggested solutions as early as this week.
Burns' 14-hour documentary is scheduled to premiere in September. PBS hopes it becomes as definitive a record of the World War II experience as Burns' "The Civil War" was for that conflict, and as popular. Kerger has already described it as Burns' greatest work.
Even though the film hasn't been seen publicly, its lack of Latino representation was sniffed out by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a former newspaper reporter who runs an oral history project about Latino World War II veterans at the University of Texas.
Rivas-Rodriguez and her staff police projects about World War II all over the country books, films, conferences and the like to make sure Latinos are represented. Last November, when Burns previewed his film at a museum, her project manager asked whether Latino veterans were interviewed in the documentary. She was told no, and immediately set about trying to raise awareness.
Anger over "The War" has deep roots.
Rivas-Rodriguez has stories from Latino Medal of Honor winners who came home to Texas only to be denied service at restaurants. She thinks few Americans are aware of the experiences, and the lack of attention it received in Tom Brokaw's best-selling book "The Greatest Generation" didn't help.
"It's a real sore spot to say to someone that your experience wasn't unique in this country," she said. "Our people weren't valued. Not only were they not valued then, they are not being valued today."
The large Latino presence among the armed forces fighting the Iraq War deepens the sensitivity toward this issue, said Marta Garcia, head of the New York chapter of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
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 weaves their individual stories about combat together to tell how the war changed lives, and changed the world.
Since he's spent his career trying to tell overlooked stories in American history, Burns said he can appreciate the Latino community's concerns.
"We did not set out to exclude Latinos, or any other group for that matter," he told The Associated Press. "In fact, thousands of stories have not been included. We set out to explore the human experience of war and combat based on a handful of stories told by individuals in only four American towns."
Still, it hasn't escaped the Latino groups' notice that blacks are talked to in the film about segregated forces, and Japanese-Americans about their internment.
Burns' stature makes the issue so crucial. "A lot of people regard Ken Burns as the country's documentarian," Rivas-Rodriguez said.
She would like to see the project expanded to include the Latino experience, perhaps even by a couple of hours. A separate film has little appeal, because few beyond those directly involved would care, she said.
"It has to be something substantive," she said. "It can't be simply inserting someone with a (Latin) last name and saying, `Oh, yeah, he was there, too.'"
To Burns, the film is done. He's already traveling to promote it, and showed a segment to cadets at West Point two weeks ago. PBS wanted to finish early to allow for ancillary products, including a book. PBS affiliates are making films about local wartime experiences.
Even if they were to entertain the idea, Burns' representatives argue that substantial changes would be difficult. To fit the narrative, Burns would have to find Latino veterans from one of the four communities, and seek out footage from the specific battles they talk about. The time-consuming process is why it took six years to make the film.
Imagine PBS' predicament. Its executives are loath to impose upon someone's creative vision, particularly the system's biggest star. If PBS changes a film because of one group's complaint, what happens the next time?
Yet PBS, of course, gets a big chunk of its funding from the federal government. The Hispanic caucus is much more important than it was five months ago, when the election put Congress under Democratic control. The National Hispanic Media Coalition is also well known to PBS for its challenges to TV station license renewals, and has criticized PBS for not hiring enough Latinos.
"PBS takes this situation very seriously," said PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan. "The stories of all the diverse communities in this country, including the Latinos, are of critical importance and while PBS has been a leading forum for these voices to be heard, there is more that needs to be done."
Michael Getler, PBS' ombudsman, has looked into the issue. He wondered whether anyone had even thought about Latino veterans during the film's six-year gestation. If nothing else, it shows how new thinking is always necessary in a diverse country, he said.
He did not, however, offer ideas to satisfy the protesters. ___
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Anyone remember that term? They fought the cops during WW2 in LA.
Finally, at midnight on June 7th, because the navy believed it had on actual mutiny on hand, the military authorities did what the city of Los Angeles would not, they moved to stop the rioting of their personnel. Los Angeles was declared off limits for all military personnel. Though there were little consequences for the rioters (servicemen and local law enforcement authorities alike), there was some public outcry. On June 16th, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt commented in her column that, "The question goes deeper than just suits. It is a racial protest. I have been worried for a long time about the Mexican racial situation. It is a problem with roots going a long way back, and we do not always face these problems as we should." Los Angeles' response was typified by the June 18th headlines of the Los Angeles Times, "Mrs. Roosevelt Blindly Stirs Race Discord," and she was accused of communist leanings in the accompanying editorial. Governor Earl Warren (later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court during their landmark desegregation cases) convened a committee to investigate the riots and recommended punishment for all involved in the riots, servicemen and civilians. Other than the charges filed against the Mexican American victims, no punishment was ever meted out.
So quit complaning and publish your own book and call it "Latino heroes of WWII".
I’m half-Finnish and am OUTRAGED that PBS allowed NO interviews from the proud Semi-Finnish-American community. At least 263 members of my proud ethic identity fought in WWII yet Ken Burns again IGNORED us. He did the same thing in his Jazz documentary! This is no coincidence — IT’S A HATE CRIME!
That would be the best thing to do.
Heck, how long was Band of Brothers and that was only one unit over a year and a half of fighting. I’m sure they still left out lots of the story that we would have found interesting enough to watch more.
Why, oh, why isn't just being an American enough for them?
Those were the good old days.
Being just a human being doesn't seem to be enough for a lot of Americans.
The fruitless external search for self-identity leads to many human ills.... I am my money. I am my job. I am my car!
I thought My Mother was the car? ;-)
With only about 200 living recipients from WWII, some may have been from Texas. I would like to hear the stories and see the names.
The constant racism of the “latino’s” if getting old. Who cares! My mother was getting bombed on in London in WWII. I’ll ask her how many Latino soldiers she ran into. Have a feelling the answer will be zero. I seem to remember that Mexico wanted to originally side with the Germans, but changed their mind because of the obvious problem they would have with the US.
Ken Burns, the Donald Trump of PBS, strikes again!
It’s amazing this guy can show his face after how bad ‘Baseball’ was, and how overambitious his ‘Jazz’ was.
He does serve an important purpose - intellectual phonies can gather around the water cooler the next day and talk about it. This is the same crew that keept ‘Cliff Notes’ in business when they were in high school and college!
I think you just demonstrated that you’re the same age as my mother ;-).
Probably am. She’s not OLD, is she?
Getting well along in middle age, but vigorous and well-preserved!
It was the best documentary I ever saw of the American Civil War. I just fell in love with Shelby Foote.
Fat chance! "The Civil War" is not "a definitive record" of the Civil War. It's a movie made about the Civil War 150 years after it ended. The definative record has to be something much closer in time.
WW2 has been covered in many more movies, documentary films, the entire History Channel and the Military Channel are full of definative history of WW2, including on camera interviews with key players.
I think that's the benefit of Ken Burns's documentaries. They give people who are interested in the subject ideas on where to go for serious study. They might even catch people by surprise and inspire an interest where there wasn't one before.
Shelby Foote was such a dear man. I'm looking forward to meeting him.
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