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Filmmaker Excludes Latinos in World War II Documentary

It's not all that hard to argue that Ken Burns is the biggest name in the world of documentaries. His stirring works about the Civil War, baseball, and jazz have garnered numerous awards and helped put PBS back on the "must-see" list. What could be argued, though, is his ability to consistently give the Latino population its rightful due.

It began with Burns's 1994 documentary on baseball. In 18 hours worth of material, Latino players were given six minutes of attention—four of which went to Roberto Clemente alone. In 2001, his 19 hour opus to jazz music afforded a little less than three minutes to examine the Latino contributions to the genre. With his new 14hour look at World War II—to air on PBS in September 2007—Burns has done it again. Not one Hispanic veteran was interviewed despite the fact that half a million Latinos fought in the war effort, and their military service "produced a higher ratio of Medal of Honor recipients relative to population than any other ethnic group."

In a CNN.com commentary, Ruben Navarette Jr. wrote: "If either PBS or Burns knew more about the ethnic group, they might have known they were playing with dynamite … A special source of pride are the World War II veterans, who came home to segregated schools, restricted restaurants, and bans on speaking Spanish."

When several Hispanic associations protested the snub, Burns told the press he was going to add an addendum at the end of the 14 hours, celebrating the Latino contributions to the war effort. When his proposed footnote approach received a lukewarm reception, Burns finally agreed to shoot new footage and interviews that he could weave seamlessly into the production.

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