The public television network, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), has agreed to changes in a documentary about World War II that will include contributions by Hispanics to the war effort. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, producers have agreed to add material to the 14-hour film planned for airing in September.
In response to complaints from Latino groups across the United States, PBS announced Wednesday that producers of the documentary The War will film narrative segments with Latinos and Native Americans about their experiences in World War II. These new narratives will be woven into the already completed documentary. Additional material will also be on the DVD release and on the PBS web site.
Hispanic groups are calling this a major victory for their united effort to oppose the film in its original form. The National Council of La Raza issued a statement Wednesday praising PBS President Paula Kerger and acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, who directed the film. The La Raza statement said this was not only a victory for Latinos, but for everyone interested in a true representation of what all of our country's brave men and women did during World War II.
The person who spearheaded the protest against the documentary, Maggie Rivas Rodriguez, a journalism professor at the University of Texas in Austin, complained that the film focused on Japanese-Americans and African-Americans and the discrimination they suffered during the war, but did not mention Latinos, who she says, also faced discrimination in the 1940's.
"We have medal of honor winners who came back, wearing their uniforms, and were denied service in restaurants, over and over again," said Maggie Rivas Rodriguez. "I think that is a pretty interesting experience of a group."
Rivas Rodriguez says a documentary about World War II does not necessarily have to include every ethnic and racial group, but that one focusing on diverse groups of people around the United States during the war, as this one does, needs to include Hispanics.
The film tells the story of the war through the perspective of four US communities: Waterbury, Connecticut, Luverne, Minnesota, Mobile, Alabama and Sacramento, California. Stories from people in those towns are used to enhance the overall story of how the war changed individual lives as well as world history.
The controversy over the exclusion of Latinos from the mix of stories had put PBS in a difficult position since a significant part of its funding comes from the federal government. In the past, conservatives have complained of a liberal bias in PBS productions, but this time complaints came from liberals, including members of the now-Democrat-controlled Congress. Several members of the House Hispanic Caucus, some of whom are veterans, criticized PBS for omitting the contributions of Hispanics from the film and noted that Hispanic soldiers continue to serve in harms way, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, some media commentators expressed concern that by giving in to the Latino demands to change the film, PBS may face future demands from other groups unhappy with the content of its productions. But Maggie Riva Rodriguez, who, among other things, runs a World War II Latino veterans oral history project at the University of Texas, called the PBS decision a great victory for the Latino community and for veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for the defense of this nation.