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Advocates Discuss Agreement to Add Hispanic Voice to WWII Film

After much pressure, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns agreed to add stories about Hispanics' role in World War II to his documentary, "The War." A Latino history professor and a film festival CEO give their views.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Award-winning documentarian Ken Burns is renowned for his epic PBS films on American history and culture…

  • DOCUMENTARY NARRATOR:

    Little Round Top was completely undefended…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    … including the landmark "Civil War" series, "Baseball," and "Jazz." But his latest work, called "The War," a seven-part series on World War II that's scheduled to air on PBS later this year, has sparked controversy over what was left out.

    The film focuses on four towns and the experiences of individuals within those communities.

  • DOCUMENTARY SUBJECT:

    Just things that happened at that time I'll never forget.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But a number of critics and advocacy groups — including the American GI Forum, a Latino veterans' organization — raised concerns that the series overlooked the contributions of Latinos to the war effort, and pressed both Burns and PBS to make changes.

    They also say this is not the first time Burns has excluded Latino contributions in the topics he's covered. In mid-March, Burns addressed the critique of "The War" on NPR's "Fresh Air."

  • KEN BURNS, Documentary Filmmaker:

    We knew going in we weren't going to be able to tell the whole story. We were looking for universal human experience of battle, of what was it like to be in that war, and not try to cover every group. We left out lots of people in many, many different kinds of groups, because we weren't looking at it in the way.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That explanation did little to quell passions. And after a meeting in mid-April between Burns, Latino representatives and PBS, Hector Galan, a noted Latino filmmaker, was enlisted to assist burns in producing new material on the efforts of the 500,000 people of Latino descent who fought in the war. But Burns and PBS rejected a central demand of the advocacy groups, that the film be re-edited to include the new material.

    Several days later, two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Joe Baca of California and Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, wrote to PBS President Paula Kerger, "The only appropriate course of action is that the documentary fully incorporate within the body of the documentary the integral role of Hispanics."

    Latino groups also went to corporate sponsors General Motors and Anheuser-Busch with their concerns.

    Then late last week came a statement that Burns' company, Florentine Films, and several Latino groups had reached a new understanding that, quote, "recognizes legitimate Latino concerns about Ken Burns' upcoming documentary series and equally recognizes that the artistic decisions of what appears in his film are his and his alone to make."

    The statement said that, quote, "The narratives and voices of Hispanic World War II veterans will be incorporated" into the film, but no details were provided on how that would be done.

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