Few artists receive near-universal acclaim quite like Ken Burns
The documentarian behind “The Civil War,” “Jazz,” “Baseball” and more stands at the top of his profession. His films quickly embed themselves in the culture at large, a key reason his ties to PBS date back to the early 1980s.
He’s won Emmys, Oscars and more industry honors and shows little interest in setting down his camera. His next opus, “Muhammad Ali,” will be available Sept. 19
None of that is stopping the woke mob from trying to “cancel” him.
Earlier this year nearly 140 documentary filmmakers signed an open letter blasting PBS for putting so many resources behind Team Burns.
“How many other ‘independent’ filmmakers have a decades-long exclusive relationship with a publicly-funded entity? … Public television supporting this level of uninvestigated privilege is troubling not just for us as filmmakers but as tax-paying Americans.”
The letter also said PBS’s initiative to elevate emerging talent, specifically artists of color, backfired because it sends the message that artists of color need that kind of leg up.
In other words, you cannot win with woke critics.
They want to take culture down, even when said culture comes in the form of a progressive darling like Burns. He previously helmed mini-features to support, and later eulogize, Sen. Ted Kennedy. He used a graduation speech to attack Donald Trump and has spent decades supporting the Democratic party.
None of that protected him from woke critics, a group which includes journalists.
The filmmaker greeted the press earlier this week and got asked about charges he’s a walking, talking case of “white privilege.” Burns, not missing a beat, suggested he supports the woke revolution even when it comes for him.
“We will take this on and we will figure out how to make it right and do a better job. I personally commit to that. … How could you possible take umbrage at the idea there could be more empowerment, there could be more representation, there could be more stories told?”
NPR’s far-left critic, Eric Deggans, suggested that response, and similar answers from PBS leaders, aren’t sufficient. He quotes one filmmaker who signed the open letter saying PBS still hasn’t done enough to meet their demands. This comes after PBS announced $11 million in grants for new mentoring programs aimed at black and Hispanic talent plus a new position dedicated to “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The Burns bullying doesn’t end there. It never does.
Burns thinks he can throw facts and figures at his critics, and they’ll be satisfied enough to lower the cyber-pitchforks. He told the press his latest “Muhammad Ali” project featured a crew that was “40 percent people of color and 53 percent female.”
His critics still weren’t satisfied. They asked if a white storyteller should be tasked with covering a black sports icon like Ali.
“I have, throughout my professional life, tried to tell the story of this country in an inclusive way,” Burns added. “That means talking about race and trying to tell stories from multiple perspectives…But I do not accept that only people of a particular background can tell certain stories about our past, particularly in the United States of America.”
He’s right, of course, but it’s still the wrong answer to his woke critics. That means the attacks on Burns and, by extension, PBS, won’t end anytime soon.
Burns might have been an exception, but his critics saw his PBS ties as a way to attack an easily bullied entity.
They were right.