Well, PBS has followed through on its promise to address activists’ concerns that Ken Burns’ upcoming WWII documentary The War shortchanges the contribution of Latinos to the American war effort. Their solution: Burns will shoot new interviews with Latino veterans (as well as Native Americans) and edit them into short interstitial films to accompany the main documentary, which he will not alter.
Some of the protesters applauded this announcement; Marta Garcia of the National Hispanic Media Coalition was quoted as calling it “a big victory for the Latino community.” Not everyone is satisfied with Burns’ last-minute additions, though. “We were not an add-on to the war. Our veterans were not add-ons to the war,” National Hispanic Leadership Agenda chair Ronald Blackburn-Moreno was quoted as saying.
He’s got a point. I remember watching parts of Burns’ classic Civil War documentary years ago in school; his thorough, humanistic portrayal of that conflict continues to inform my conception of that era in history to this day. By attaching short films to the outskirts of his latest project, Burns will be sending a subtle but distinct message to the students who watch The War in years to come that Latinos were marginal to the United States’ struggle to stop fascism — important enough to be discussed, but not important enough to merit equal billing with other veterans.
I understand where Burns is coming from; again, there’s no sign ofintentional racism or deeply-held prejudice here. He invested six yearsof his life in making this film as complete as he thought possible, andhe’s clearly making a good-faith effort now to address the criticismswhich have been raised at this late date. Burns’ new plans areabsolutely a good start. But this quick fix just isn’t quite enough.Editing a work that you think is finished can be frustrating, but Burnshas a chance now to avoid the far more frustrating situation of lookingback on The War in five, 10, or 20 years and realizing that it really is missing a key part of its story.
What do you think, PopWatchers — should Burns go back to the editing roomagain, or has he conceded enough? And are you still looking forward to The War after all this controversy?