April 08, 2007

Latino Activists should take advantage of Ken Burns' documentary omissions

Understandably, Latino activist groups are already bashing Ken Burns' latest PBS effort, "The War." In the film, Burns (yes, for you iMovie lovers, that's the namesake of the "Ken Burns Effect" for using photos in your home-made videos) creates a sort of oral history of World War II through interviews with veterans and family and community members in a few selected American towns. What the activists are saying is that even though Japanese-Americans and African-Americans get their stories told in the film, there's not a single representation of the Latino-American war experience.

As I said before, I totally understand where the people in these groups are coming from, but demands that the film be updated to include Latino stories before its September premiere are unreasonable. The film has been in the works for six years, and Burns and co. would be hard-pressed to find a way to integrate new interviews in only six months, and still keep them relevant to the towns chosen for the film. What's more, the 14-hour documentary series never claimed to be all-inclusive (no matter how much Burns wishes his labor of love would become the American WWII documentary). From the segments of the series I've seen, the show looks great - emotional, accurate, very well-made - but it does limit itself to select communities, and even 14 hours of a broader documentary couldn't cover every aspect of WWII.

Surely Latinos aren't the only minorities left out of the series. But having grown into such a dominant minority (oxymoron?) in the United States in decades since, Latino activist groups should give up on dreams of Burns magically transforming his nearly-complete documentary. Just by voicing their complaints, this cause has gotten plenty of attention in the mainstream press and brought their story to the forefront. They should follow the lead of oral history projects already in-progress, take advantage of all the newfound interest, and produce a great, high-profile documentary of their own in hopes of adding it to the high school history class video canon.

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