Ken Burns of College Behind Bars speaks during the PBS segment of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association Press Tour 2019 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.

Emmy-winning documentarian Ken Burns, whose latest work debuts on PBS on Monday, threw his support Thursday behind Beyond Inclusion, a group of nearly 140 creatives who sent a letter to the network accusing it of lacking diversity.

In the letter addressed to PBS President Paula Kerger, the group called out the public broadcaster for its “over-reliance on one white male filmmaker.”

“When you program an 8-part series on Muhammad Ali by Ken Burns, what opportunity is there for a series or even a one-off film to be told by a Black storyteller who may have a decidedly different view?” asks the letter, dated Monday.

It continues, “This is about equitable support for BIPOC [Black, indigenous or person of color] filmmakers to author their own narratives at all stages of their careers that rival the access and support seen by their white peers.”

“As the leader of the public broadcasting system,” PBS has a responsibility to “commit to an open and sustained public dialogue,” the letter says. “Questioning whether PBS could be doing better should not be seen as an attack, but as an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and action, and to engage BIPOC filmmakers as we chart a course forward.”

Burns, who has an exclusive relationship with the network going until at least next year, acknowledged the group’s concerns Thursday.

“I wholeheartedly support the objectives of the letter writers,” he said, according to NBC News. “I think this is hugely important, and one of the reasons we’ve been in public television has been a commitment to inclusion and diversity.”

“But can we do better? Of course we can. Can PBS do better? Of course they can,” he added.

Burnes noted that the majority of the profits his production company, Florentine Films, brings in come from “outside sources,” not PBS, according to NBC News.

“I’m just very proud that it [PBS] does it as well as anybody else,” Burns concluded. “The fact that it’s still not good enough? It just means we all have room for improvement.”

The filmmaker’s six-hour documentary about Ernest Hemingway begins on PBS next week.

Tags American film directors BIPOC Diversity Ernest Hemingway Ken Burns PBS
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