By Marisa Guthrie
April 12, 2007
PBS will not alter Ken Burns’ 15-hour World War II documentary “The War,” which is finished and scheduled to premiere in September.
But Burns will add to it.
The historian will produce an additional chapter of the film that will examine the contributions of Latinos and Native Americans. The addendum to what many view as Burns’ finest film comes in direct response to a campaign by Latino and Native American organizations who expressed anger at not being included in a heroic chapter of American history.
“It’s a positive outcome for our community,” said Marta Garcia, an organizer of the grassroots group Defend the Honor, “and it’s a testament to what we can accomplish when we as a community work together.”
Burns and his co-producer, Lynn Novick, said they were “saddened” by the initial response to “The War,” and stressed that it was never meant to be a “comprehensive treatment of the subject.”
“The War” chronicles the experiences of the citizens of only four American towns: Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif., and Luverne, Minn.
John Wilson, PBS’ vice president of programming, said the public broadcaster has been engaged in a dialogue with Latino groups for several months.
The challenge, he said, “was how do we acknowledge those concerns and at the same time honor the artistic work of the filmmaker? It has been trying to find that middle path and that’s what we have been focusing on in the past couple of weeks.”
The new chapter of “The War” will eventually be part of the overall film – and part of the DVD, online and educational outreach materials. Wilson declined to elaborate on the new content or where it would air within the original series.
Garcia praised PBS president Paula Kerger’s leadership but said that the publicly funded network still has some work to do in realizing equality in front of and behind the cameras.
“The new content is something we’re very happy about,” she said. “But we need to look at how many Latino producers are being used by the network and how many are in policy-making positions. It goes beyond programming. It goes into governance. It goes into staffing patterns and that slides over into who gets on before the cameras.”
Burns’ production company will assemble a production team, including a Latino producer, to work on the additional content.
Garcia noted that the Latino audience is a very large, influential and underserved minority. And even she was surprised by that community’s response to the campaign. “We’ve never seen this kind of mobilization around an issue. And it has been one of the most emotionally charged campaigns that I as an activist have seen.”