WASHINGTON — Several Hispanic groups said Thursday they are unhappy with Ken Burns’ plan to amend his upcoming World War II documentary series, “The War,” by telling stories of Latino veterans during breaks and at the end of each hour.
PBS and Burns have faced heated protests from an array of Hispanic groups because the 14-hour documentary does not include any Hispanics who served in the war or information about their contributions.
“The War,” is scheduled to premiere in September, Hispanic Heritage month. PBS hopes it becomes as popular as Burns’ “The Civil War” and plans to sell a companion book and DVDs.
The film, made over six years, tells the story of the war through people from four communities — Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Luverne, Minn. None of the people interviewed are Hispanic. Native Americans also are left out.
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On Wednesday, PBS issued a list of steps it planned to take in response to the complaints that came from a broad coalition of Hispanic groups and veterans.
Part of the plan is for Burns to seek out Latino veterans and interview them. Those interviews would run during breaks or at the end of each hour of the series, but the film would not change, said Joe DePlasco, Burns’ publicist.
Burns has said his plan to add the stories is like amending the Constitution.
But Antonio Gil Morales, national commander of the American GI Forum, said Burns is treating Hispanic veterans as a footnote in the war.
“We want inclusion on this thing ... We owe it to the tens of thousands of Hispanics who died in the battlefields of the European theater, the Pacific theater and the African campaign, plus the hundreds of thousands that returned to this country that still faced hate and the same segregation and discrimination,” Morales said.
‘We were not an add-on to the war’
The groups want Burns’ documentary redone with new footage on Hispanic military service during WWII.
“We were not an add-on to the war. Our veterans were not add-ons to the war,” said Ronald Blackburn-Moreno, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 Hispanic community groups.
Manuel Mirabal, chairman of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, said it is not unreasonable to ask that a documentary that took six years to make be redone.
“We’re not at fault for the fact that during the entire six-year period that Mr. Burns and PBS were researching this documentary that they found nothing of merit having to do with Hispanic military contributions,” Mirabal said.
PBS President Paula Kerger has said Burns decided how to respond to the complaints and that she respected his right as an artist to tell his story.
A PBS spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Thursday when contacted by The Associated Press.
There is a feeling among some of the groups that PBS has listened to the complaints, said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a university associate professor who launched the protest against Burns’ film.
PBS’ proposal to include the Latino veterans’ experiences in educational materials and hire a Latino producer are steps forward, said Gus Chavez, a World War II veteran involved in the campaign. But Chavez said plans to sprinkle Latinos’ stories in breaks and at the end of each hour are not acceptable.
PBS still must contend with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which also weighed in on the issue on behalf of the American GI Forum. PBS receives some federal funding and some members of the caucus serve on appropriations committees.
Sen. Bob Menendez, one of three Hispanic U.S. senators, said he’s unhappy with Burns’ proposal so far.
“I don’t think Hispanic participation in WWII is an amendment,” said Menendez, D-New Jersey. “We are an integral part of the nation’s history and this is a constant battle to have that history recognized and it’s not just recent history either.”
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