Film-makers condemn PBS over lack of diversity and dependence on Ken Burns

Por poco 140 non-fiction film-makers have signed a letter criticizing PBS for a lack of diversity and asking for transparency about the public broadcaster’s programming, spending and staffing practices.

los carta was written and released in response to remarks by PBS President Paula Kerger earlier this year about the non-profit organization’s diversity of programming and staff.

Kerger said she had to “respectfully disagree” with an essay published by the film-maker Grace Lee that criticized PBS’s “overreliance” on Ken Burns, the documentarian, as “America’s storyteller”.

The new letter, released by a group led by Bipoc film-makers and known collectively as Beyond Inclusion, also questions PBS’s relationship with Burns, dicho: “Public television supporting this level of uninvestigated privilege is troubling not just for us as film-makers but as tax-paying Americans.”

“How many other ‘independent’ film-makers have a decades-long exclusive relationship with a publicly-funded entity?” the letter asks.

PBS is one of the country’s largest broadcasters and receives public funding.

The signatories say they collected data on Burns’ programming via and found about 211 hours of PBS programming from the film-maker spanning four decades. The letter says: “This is reflected in 38 cumulative films, miniseries and television series titles. Burns has 108 director credits and 119 executive producer/producer credits.” It also notes that PBS “has an exclusive relationship with Burns until at least 2022, exclusive home video and audio visual rights to existing and new films through 2025, and the Amazon Prime channel boasts the entire catalogue of Burns’ films”.

NPR reported that Lee, who is a member of Beyond Inclusion, has said her criticism isn’t about singling out Burns. “It’s not about Ken Burns, it’s about this public television system living up to its mandate," ella dijo. “On Asian Americans, we got five hours to tell 150 years of American history. Ernest Hemingway, one man, gets six hours of documentary in prime timeThis kind of disparity is something that I wanted to call attention to.”

The film-makers also criticize Kerger’s use of PBS’s work with Black film-makers such as Henry Louis Gates Jr and Stanley Nelson as an example of its diversity. Referencing Gates, Nelson and Lee, the letter contends: “Using the example of three individual BIPOC filmmakers is an inadequate leadership response to a systemic failure to fulfill a mandate for a diversity of voices.”

Kerger told NPR she hoped PBS could meet with Beyond Inclusion to discuss the group’s diversity concerns. “This is an important moment for all of us to really take a hard look at what we’re doing and make sure that we are pursuing all opportunities," ella dijo. “What is it going to takeparticularly for those mid-career film-makers, so there is a solid place [for them] in public broadcasting?"

PBS has also pushed back at some of the assertions in the letter. According to NPR, the organization said out of 200 hours of non-fiction primetime programming planned for this year, 35% was produced by “diverse” film-makers. Additionally, PBS says that in the past five years the organization has aired 58 hours of programming from Burns and 74 hours from Gates.




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