Latinos' Battle With Burns Taken to 'War' Sponsors

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 3, 2007

Latino advocacy organizations upset about filmmaker Ken Burns's forthcoming PBS documentary on World War II have stepped up their campaign against the film, pressuring two corporate sponsors to remove their support.

Leaders of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, an umbrella organization of 14 groups, on Tuesday asked representatives of General Motors Corp. and Anheuser-Busch to disavow their sponsorship and remove their corporate logos from Burns's "The War," a 14-hour documentary scheduled to be shown on PBS stations in September, coincidentally during Hispanic Heritage Month.

"Our message was very simple," said Manuel Mirabal, the association's chairman. "They should not be associated with this documentary. If they plan to do so, to put it bluntly, they will not be held harmless."

He added: "We should all be working to resolve this issue together. We understand that Ken Burns has his artistic principles, but in this case taxpayer dollars were used to make this film and it is flawed. Ken Burns can make as many films as he wants, but the buck stops here because he's using our taxpayer dollars."

The groups, including veterans' organizations, have complained for months that the documentary includes no mention of Latino contributions to the American war effort.

The controversy began last fall when, after a screening of the film, Burns's team acknowledged that Latinos were not represented in the documentary. The campaign against the film was initiated by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a University of Texas journalism professor who directs the U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project. PBS officials, Burns and the advocacy groups met last month in Washington without reaching a resolution.

PBS and Burns have said that they will add additional material to address the issue and that they have hired a Latino filmmaker to assist in producing it. But Burns and PBS have said repeatedly that the film itself is complete and that the new material will not be part of the stories detailed in the documentary.

The addition of new material hasn't quieted the protests; the organizations are concerned that such content will be a mere "add-on" that marginalizes the war service of Latinos.

In a related development, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said it has requested meetings with representatives from General Motors, Anheuser-Busch and other underwriters of "The War" to raise the same issues.

In a statement yesterday, General Motors said: "We are aware that some Hispanic organizations and leaders have expressed concerns about the exclusion of diverse groups of people who served in World War II from the documentary. We encourage these organizations to engage in conversations with Mr. Burns and PBS so that an understanding can be reached with a resolution that is agreeable to all parties."

A representative for the automaker, Ryndee S. Carney, added in an interview yesterday that the company has "no plans to remove our name from the film."

Anheuser-Busch said in a statement yesterday that it was not involved in developing the documentary's content. The company said: "Our long history of military support includes numerous Latino veterans' organizations and projects honoring the Latino contribution to American military efforts."

Representatives of PBS had no comment yesterday.

GM and Anheuser-Busch are the sole corporate sponsors of the documentary, providing about $5 million of the film's $8 million budget. General Motors has provided funding for Burns's Florentine Films for 20 years.

People close to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility say its leadership urged the two companies to cut future financial ties to Burns and to meet with him to stress their concerns.

Among the nonprofit and quasi-governmental organizations that provided funding are the Lilly Endowment, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Longaberger Foundation and the Park Foundation, according to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Mirabal, whose group met with GM and Anheuser-Busch executives in Miami, stopped short of saying Latinos would boycott the corporations if the group's demands were ignored. But in an interview, he made clear that his organization considered the status quo unacceptable.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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