Hispanic groups unhappy with an upcoming Ken Burns documentary on World War II are stepping up pressure on PBS because they say the series omits mention of the role Latinos played in the war.
The latest group to take their grievance to PBS is the American GI Forum, a Hispanic veterans group that has waged numerous civil rights battles for Hispanics and Hispanic veterans.
The American GI Forum is appealing to Hispanic veterans and other Latino groups to write members of Congress and their local PBS affiliates about the documentary, “The War,” which has been six years in the making.
This week, GI Forum President Antonio Morales of Fort Worth, Texas, and other Latino leaders met in Washington with PBS President Paula Kerger to lodge their complaints about the 14-hour Burns documentary set to air this September, Hispanic Heritage month.
“We are not going to tolerate this omission,” Morales said after the meeting.
PBS said it would respond in two weeks. In the meantime, the publicly funded network issued a statement: “While PBS has been a leading forum for these voices to be heard, there is more that needs to be done. We will expand upon our commitment, particularly around the creation and delivery of content that better represents the diversity of the audiences we serve.”
In a statement issued by his publicist, Burns and co-producer Lynn Novick said they were “dismayed and saddened” by any assumptions they intentionally left out any group. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they said.
They urged viewers to see the series before judging it, and they said they hope it will prompt discussions about World War II.
The Burns series documents the war from the perspective of four U.S. communities: Waterbury, Conn.; Luverne, Minn.; Mobile, Ala.; and Sacramento, Calif. Burns has produced several highly acclaimed series on American history, including PBS-aired programs on the Civil War and baseball.
Focus on four towns
“In this latest project, we have attempted to show the universal human experience of war by focusing on the testimonies of just a handful of people mostly from four American towns. As a result, millions of stories are not explored in our film,” Burns and Novick said.
The GI Forum also met with Hispanic members of Congress this week to plan a strategy to raise the issue nationally.
The GI Forum was founded in 1948 in Corpus Christi, Texas, by a physician who recognized that Mexican-American veterans were not getting equal treatment in veterans hospitals or receiving benefits they were promised for their service.
Their meeting followed one earlier this week by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with Kerger and earlier meetings with PBS officials and a coalition of Hispanic groups that first took up the issue. The coalition is calling its fight the Defend the Honor campaign.
The controversy over the Burns documentary has been simmering for months, since University of Texas journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez learned the film did not include Hispanics.