Ken Burns’ New Docuseries Follows The Life And Fights Of Muhammad Ali

How could someone opposed, and in some cases hated, by large swathes of American society at the peak of his career become a widely beloved figure — quite possibly the most famous person in the world — decades later?

Filmmaker Ken Burns attempts to answer this question, among many others, in his new four-part documentary looking at the life and times of former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. An American original if ever there was one, Ali’s life and career navigated questions of race, religion, expression, and politics, not to mention the history of boxing – a sport deep-rooted in American history and culture.

The documentary represents Burns’ latest foray into the nexus of boxing and American culture. His 2004 documentary “Unforgiveable Blackness” examined the rise and fall of Jack Johnson. The first African American heavyweight champion, Johnson faced racism and abuse during his stint as champion, most notably via a trumped-up violation of the Mann Act that amounted to criminal prosecution because Johnson had the temerity to date white women. He eventually served a year in jail for this “offense,” though President Donald Trump (rightly) gave him a posthumous pardon in 2018.

Ali himself saw parallels between Johnson’s life and his own. In 1968, Ali attended a Broadway performance of “The Great White Hope,” which chronicled the attempts more than 50 years earlier to find a Caucasian boxer who could wrest the title away from Johnson. Ali told James Earl Jones, who played the Johnson character in the play, that “take out the interracial love stuff and Jack Johnson is the original me …Only the details are different.”

Rise from Jim Crow South

But the political controversy that surrounded Ali’s career after he refused induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam War did not appear during the years covered by the initial episode of Burns’ documentary. The first two hours study the meteoric rise of the pugilist, culminating in his championship bout against Sonny Liston in 1964.

Two themes appear in the first episode that followed Ali throughout his life, the first and most obvious being race. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville in 1942, both he and his father Cassius Sr. were named for a famous 19th-century Republican politician and abolitionist. This is somewhat ironic considering Ali later called his birth moniker his “slave name.”

Clay grew up in a segregated community as the civil rights movement began to emerge. Not long after he began boxing at the age of 12, the brutal murder of Emmett Till, who was beaten, disfigured, and slaughtered for having spoken to a white woman, deeply affected the young Clay, who was only six months younger than Till himself. The incident prompted justified anger throughout the African American community, and a renewed desire to fight for civil rights.

Yet at first, Clay shied away from any overt political statements regarding civil rights or anything else. When he turned professional following his gold medal victory at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Clay boasted a group of Louisville businessmen, many of them white, who agreed to help the black boxer underwrite his burgeoning career. The boosters paid him a salary — largely unheard of in the fight game — and, by agreeing to assume much of the financial risk of his fights, meant Clay would not have to consort with the mobsters that ruled much of boxing in the 1960s.

As his career began to rise, Clay weighed the potential impact his public statements would have on his future prospects. In 1962 and 1963, he began exploring the Nation of Islam, and interacting with its leaders, particularly Malcolm X. But he kept the extent and nature of his involvement secret, with Malcolm X departing from the boxer’s camp just before the Liston fight, because he did not want to jeopardize his chance for a shot at the title.

“Gaseous Cassius”

Another theme throughout the first episode, and Ali’s life in general: His gift of gab for good and for ill. Archival footage shows Cassius Clay’s mother saying he began speaking before he was one — a skill that, once acquired, he would often employ.

Well before he became a household and worldwide name, the young Clay used his showmanship to sell tickets to his matches door-to-door in Louisville, helping to generate a solid return for his boosters and himself. After seeing an appearance by Gorgeous George while on a trip to Las Vegas, the young Clay decided to borrow the professional wrestler’s schtick — polished boots, gleaming white trunks, a Vaseline rub to make his torso shine, and no small amount of braggadocio — to attract women to his matches, and the press to his accomplishments.

At a time when boxing had begun to become moribund, Clay’s “trash talking” won him headlines, and won the sport new interest. For a time, some observers wondered whether his skill in predicting when he would knock out his opponents meant his matches were fixed (a common occurrence in those days).

But Sonny Liston saw the psychological effects of the “Louisville Lip’s” rhetoric. In the days and weeks leading up to their fight, Clay’s unending stunts both got under Liston’s skin, and made the latter think the former something of a pushover or someone who spent more time working his mouth than his arms and fists. After six rounds in Miami, however, Liston had seen enough; he failed to answer the bell for the seventh, making Clay the new heavyweight champion at the ripe old age of 22.

Shortly after the fight, the new champ officially joined the Nation of Islam, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The public transformation led to a series of controversies that defined his life — the conflict between racial integration and the black separatist movement, Ali’s refusal to accept getting drafted during the Vietnam War, and the impact that athletes and other celebrities can, or should, have on politics and culture. Those issues permeated society in the United States and worldwide, making Muhammad Ali’s battles outside the ring even more memorable than the champion’s fights within it.

Episodes two through four of Muhammad Ali will air September 20, 21, and 22 on most local PBS stations, and are also available online.





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Review ‘Muhammad Ali’: Ken Burns Documentary Enthralling

As many times as this story has been told, it will never be told better than in the enthralling eight-hour Ken Burns documentary.




NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE

‘W
hat’s my name?” Muhammad Ali kept asking, with his fists as well as his mouth. Here’s one to the jaw.

“What’s my name?” Bam. Here’s one to the eye.

“What’s my name?” Ali wanted to know, putting the question to Ernie Terrell in a gruesome February 1967 championship dismantling. Terrell, in pre-fight interviews, had insisted on calling Ali by his birth name, Cassius Clay. Ali had decided that was his “slave name,” although it was really his father’s name, and before that the name of a famous Kentucky abolitionist. Ali said he would punish Terrell for deliberately misnaming him, and made good





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Mayim Bialik And Ken Jennings To Host ‘Jeopardy!’ Rest Of Season, No More Guests

Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings will split “Jeopardy!” hosting duties the rest of the season and there will be no more guests following Mike Richards’ departure.

The 45-year-old actress will host the remaining episodes of the popular game show from Sept. 20 through Nov. 5. with the former “Jeopardy!” champion helping out through the end of the year as each of their schedules allow, Variety magazine reported in a piece published Thursday. The show confirmed the news with a post on Twitter. (RELATED: Report: Aaron Rodgers’ ‘Jeopardy!’ Guest Hosting Gave Show A Huge Spike In Ratings)

The search for a permanent host will continue despite the fact there will be no more guest hosts coming in, TMZ noted.

Bialik was previously named by the company to host “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials with Richards taking over for the daily hosting duties for the late Alex Trebek. (RELATED: LeVar Burton Confirms He Has His Sights Set On Being The Next Host Of ‘Jeopardy!’)

Richards stepped down from hosting duties following criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) about allegedly “disparaging remarks” he made in the past “about Jews, women & Asians.”

After Trebek lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, a large group of celebrities stepped in to help guest host the show, with several vying for the permanent gig. The list of guest hosts include Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, “Jeopardy!” champion Jennings, LeVar Burton, Savannah Guthrie, Bialik and many more.





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Critical Race Theory Has No Place in Military: Rep. Ken Buck

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) wants the U.S. military to be more focused on “readiness, not wokeness” and hopes to put an end to “dangerous and divisive” critical race theory being taught to service men and women.

Earlier this week, Buck submitted an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which specifies the annual budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense, regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion practices being mandated at the DOD, when it comes to employment training.

Buck is just one of many GOP lawmakers who oppose critical race theory (CRT) over fears that peddling the Marxist theory to service members will only serve to reduce both their cohesion and combat effectiveness when it comes to fighting real threats facing America, such as those posed by terrorist groups. 

Critical race theory redefines human history as a struggle between the “oppressors”—typically white people—and the “oppressed”—other identity groups—similar to Marxism’s reduction of history to a struggle between the “bourgeois” and the “proletariat.”

CRT adherents generally believe that America is systemically racist and that racial oppression exists and that institutions that emerged in majority-white societies are racist and “white supremacist.” The theory has slowly expanded in recent decades through academia, government structures, school systems, and the corporate world.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, congressman Buck said he believes CRT—which has become more of a central focus following the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25, 2020— has “no place” within the U.S. military, calling it “dangerous and divisive”.

“I think that there are political theories that are being espoused in this country, such as critical race theory, that are dangerous, and divisive and have no place in the military,” he said.

“If we want to have those discussions in the private sphere, in the marketplace of ideas, we can certainly have those discussions, but to require members of the military to be trained in critical race theory and to have inclusion and diversity officers in the Department of Defense, I think undermines the necessary discipline that we need in our military to conduct business.”

People hold up signs during a rally against Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, Va., on June 12, 2021. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Advocates of CRT, such as Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have defended its teachings among the U.S. military, saying that he wants to “understand white rage” and that it’s important for military members to be “open-minded and be widely read”.

But Buck disagrees with this sentiment, and says the military should instead be focusing their attention on “winning wars” and not spending hours and hours being trained on “social issues”.

“Any time we require hours and hours of training on diversity, inclusion, and other areas, we take away from the time that our troops are actually engaged in the activities that that will save their lives, the training is so important to them,” the congressman said.

“I can remember talking to a general several years ago, and the Obama administration required more hours of training in a particular month than the service members worked in that month,” Buck said.

“In other words, more than 40 hours a week they were expected to be in this type of diversity training, and not in the field practicing and training for why they joined the military.”

Buck noted that placing too much of a burden on teaching social issues to military members can also actually widen the divide between Americans based on their race, among other things, which in turn “takes away from the cohesion that is necessary to create a unified fighting force.”

“It reduces our ability for military preparedness for all threats out there — China, which is the greatest threat to this country’s security,” he said while adding Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups that present a threat to the United States.

Katabella Roberts





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Ken Blackwell And Other African American Leaders Warn That H.R. 4 Does Not Continue John Lewis’ Proud Civil Rights Legacy – RedState

The Democrat-led House voted Tuesday to advance H.R. 4 — otherwise known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — to a contentious battle in the Senate. If passed, the legislation would, among other things, allow the Justice Department to “review of changes in election law in states with a history of discrimination.

Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) have insisted the law is necessary to counteract recent Supreme Court decisions that weaken the 1965 Voting Rights Act and impede minority communities’ ability to vote while making it easier for states to overturn election results.

“These undemocratic measures disproportionately impact communities of color,” Clyburn said Tuesday.

However Ken Blackwell, Chairman of CNP Action and former Ohio Secretary of State, took issue with that sentiment Tuesday before the vote. He said H.R. 4 is little more than a power grab and an extreme partisan attempt to federalize elections that would ultimately “lead to federal control [and] the corruption of elections by partisan idealogues in the DOJ.”

Blackwell, in a press conference with other prominent African-American leaders such as Dean Nelson, Chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute,  and Clarence E. Henderson, National Spokesman for the Frederick Douglass Foundation, said the legislation is not in keeping with the spirit of its namesake’s activism and “is an insult to the history of the civil rights movement in this country.”

“It is a direct affront to the transparency of election systems at the local and state levels,” Blackwell said, because it would allow the DOJ to sue states over laws passed but not yet implemented; and would, according to USA Today, “create new tests for challenging election laws that dilute the power of voters, such as in redistricting, or for blocking a voter from casting a ballot, such as in a voter ID case.”

In the latest legislation, the House agreed to revive Justice Department review of changes in election law if a state accumulates 15 violations in 25 years. The bill would also create a category of “practice-based” preclearance, to give the department oversight when a jurisdiction makes changes such as switching from district voting to at-large elections.

Blackwell, Dean, and Henderson claimed the legislation is a “solution in search of a problem” as it relates to it providing a supposed fix to the problem of minority disenfranchisement at the ballot box.

“Elections are setting records for turnout among minority and racial and ethnic groups,” Blackwell said, noting that African American and Hispanic voting numbers increased in 2020 compared to 2016.

“There’s no real evidence from out vantage point that blacks are being discriminated against at the ballot box,” Dean said. “There is a consistent effort from the left to scare, particularly African American voters, largely in southern states.”

“[The left’s language is intended] to create greater concern from the minority community that voting rights might be taken away [and H.R. 4] ultimately gives…more control than is really needed to the Justice Department,” Dean said.

The battle in the Senate could lead to a renewed debate over abolishing the filibuster. A filibuster to block legislation would require 60 votes to beat and the nearly even partisan split in the Senate makes that a difficulty.

“If 10 Senate Republicans won’t support this bill, then Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster,” Sylvia Albert, Common Cause director of voting and elections, told USA Today. “The freedom to vote must be protected for every American.”

But for Henderson, the issue is far more personal than procedural battles in Congressional chambers.

“First you wouldn’t let us vote, then you tell us how to vote, now you want to restrict our voting rights,” Henderson said Tuesday.



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How Bill Barr Kept Ken Starr Off the Supreme Court (Resulting in David Souter) – Reason.com

A recent episode of Will Baude and Dan Epps’ Divided Argument podcast noted an interesting episode in judicial nomination history, reported in Jan Crawford’s 2007 book Supreme Conflict and highlighted on Lawyers, Guns and Money at the time.

Back in 1990, liberal icon William Brennan retired from the Supreme Court, creating a vacancy for President George H.W. Bush to fill. President Bush ultimately nominated David Souter, largely at the urging of John Sununu and Warren Rudman. Among the other short-listers were Edith Jones (reportedly the runner up), Kenneth Starr, and Laurence Silberman.

Starr, who left the U.S. Court of Appeals to serve as Bush’s Solicitor General had been an early favorite, but Bill Barr helped quash his contention for the seat. According to Crawford, Barr and Michael Luttig (who both held senior Justice Department positions at the time) were among those who opposed to nominating Starr. Their objection was that he was soft on executive power. In particular, they were upset that he had failed to argue that qui tam suits are unconstitutional, and convinced then-Attorney General Dick Thornburgh that this made Starr unacceptable.

Here’s the material from pages 92-93 Crawford’s book (highlighted in the above-mentioned LGM post).

The issue dividing [Bill Barr, Michael Luttig, and Starr] was a law that permitted private citizens to sue for fraud against the federal government [and receive a bounty]…Barr and Luttig thought the law infringed on presidential authority, the final straw in a series of court decisions eroding executive authority…But new soliticor general Starr concluded any challenge to the law would be quixotic at best. Barr and Luttig were furious that Starr wouldn’t take their side. They came to think he rejected their position in part to avoid antagonizing Charles Grassley, a populist Republican from Iowa who had sponsored the 1986 amendments to the law and who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Consciously or not, Starr, they thought, had put his own interests above the president’s, possibly because he was envisioning appearing before that very committee as a Supreme Court nominee.

The showdown over presidential power set a pattern which continued after Barr became deputy attorney general the next year and Luttig moved into Barr’s old job. From that point forward, Starr was the odd man out.

[AG Dick] Thornburgh slammed the door shut that Saturday morning, insisting to Bush and other advisers that Starr was unsuitable for the Supreme Court. He suggested he felt so strongly about it that he was willing to resign.

[…]

That ended the discussion–and the Supreme Court prospects–of Kenneth Starr.

Concern for executive branch authority was also a reason some gave against nominating Edith Jones. Conservatives were very pro-Chevron deference at the time, and some within the Bush Administration argued that Jones would be weak on that issue. (How times change.) There were also concerns that nominating Jones would provoke more of a fight.

It is interesting to think how much would have been different had Starr been nominated instead of Souter. Assuming Clarence Thomas still got the next nomination, the Court would likely have overturned Roe in Casey. In addition, Starr would never have become an Independent Counsel, and it’s unlikely Brett Kavanaugh would ever have investigated the Lewinsky affair.

So, if you are happy that President Bush nominated David Souter instead of Ken Starr, you should thank Bill Barr.



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Texas AG Ken Paxton says he is suing Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who defied ban on mask mandates

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he is suing to enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates after a Dallas County judge removed an elected Republican commissioner from a commissioner’s court meeting because he was not wearing a mask.

On Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked a district court to declare Abbott’s ban on mask mandates unconstitutional, insisting that the governor overstepped by signing an executive order in May that prohibits government entities, including schools, from implementing mask mandates.

Jenkins, who is the presiding officer of the commissioners court and has responsibilities of a county administrator and not a courtroom judge, wants to require face masks in commissioners’ court. Last week, he had Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch escorted out of a commissioners’ meeting because he refused to wear a mask. Koch, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, is now suing him.

During an interview on BlazeTV host Glenn Beck’s radio program, Paxton said the state of Texas is also suing to have Abbott’s ban on mask mandates enforced and Jenkins’ actions declared illegal.

Paxton said what Jenkins did was “in complete violation of state law.” He told Beck that litigation is already under way and that “we’re going to try to stop what we consider illegal by this county judge.”

“Here’s the deal, Glenn. These guys are supposed to act under law. And if he doesn’t like the current law, he needs to like lobby the legislature to change it. Not decide for himself,” Paxton said.

The attorney general predicted victory, defending Abbott’s order as lawful.

“If the law matters, he has no chance. We’ve won these battles before. This is déjà vu all over again for us. So we’re very confident we’re going to win. I think he’s doing it for media coverage,” he said.

Jenkins’ court filing argues that a temporary injunction against Abbott’s mask mandate ban is needed “because there is immediate and irreparable harm that will befall Dallas County — and others outside Dallas County — if they cannot require the public health-advancing mitigation measure of mandatory face coverings in public.”

He claims that Abbott is threatening people’s lives by preventing him from requiring masks in county commissioners meetings. Jenkins also insists that the state’s Disaster Act, which gives county judges the authority to declare local disasters and to seek to mitigate the disaster, precludes the governor from limiting the actions a county judge like Jenkins determines is necessary to do so.

During the pandemic, with COVID-19 cases rising in Texas, Jenkins argues government entities and schools must be allowed to implement mask mandates or else “many people will unnecessarily get seriously ill or die.”

But Paxton said Jenkins does not have the legal authority to violate the governor’s order.

“I think [Barack] Obama set this up, when he was president. He ignored federal law. Didn’t work through Congress. Made up his own executive order, had agencies make up the law, and just thumbed his nose at laws,” Paxton said.

“I think he set sort of the mindset for a lot of Democrats. Particularly, Democratic elected officials. ‘I don’t have to follow the law either. If President Obama doesn’t do it, I might adopt the same approach.’ So that’s kind of the same approach you’re seeing by mayors, by county judges, by elected officials all over the country. Who just say, look, why should I follow that? Sue me. They have no political risk.”





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Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns calls Mark Zuckerberg “enemy of the state” who should be in jail

Documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns is calling for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to be put in jail. 

Speaking on the New York TimesSway podcast to promote his new film about Mohammad Ali, Burns, known for his award-winning documentaries The Vietnam War and The Civil War, called Zuckerberg an “enemy of the state” when he was asked if any particular tech figure would be culturally significant in the next few decades as much as Ali is today.

“I mean, I hope Zuckerberg is in jail by then,” Burns said. “This is an enemy of the state, and I mean the United States of America. He doesn’t give a s**t about us, the United States.”

“He knows he can transcend it,” Burns continued. “He can get away to any place. And so it’s just about filthy lucre, that’s it.”

Burns did not relent on his criticism of Facebook and also turned his attention towards Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whom he described as being “complicit” with Zuckerberg. 

“Because these people — and Sheryl is a complicit — the Nuremberg of this, is if it ever happens, which it won’t, will be pretty interesting.” Burns said. “The way that we’ve been able to temporize and say, ‘Oh, it’s okay, we’ll just go a little bit further,’ right?”

Burns, a staunch Democrat, was widely ridiculed last month when he described America’s current cultural crisis as “the most fraught time” in the history of the United States, blaming the Republican party for trying to “run against the government.”

Citing misinformation and arguments over COVID-19 and the election crisis, Burns described the U.S. as being in a “desperate place.” 

“The convergence of all those viruses, the side effects of the misinformation and the paranoia and the lying, voter suppression,” said Burns on MSNBC. “And then the rewriting of our history are saying that we’re not interested in facts. We’re not interested in the truth. We’re not interested in the many varied voices that make us up.”

But as NewsBusters and other media critics point out, Burns invalidated his own comments when he called this the “most fraught time,” given that he is himself known as the “Civil War guy” for his creation of the documentary miniseries.

It’s ironic that the documentarian best known for a television series about the Civil War seems to have forgotten the Civil War. That is the only conclusion one would have to make about PBS filmmaker Ken Burns because on Friday’s The 11th Hour With Brian Williams, after briefly discussing Robert E. Lee and Woodrow Wilson, he declared that “this is the most fraught time I think in the history of our republic.”  

Really, Ken? More fraught than the American Civil War that you chronicled in which over half a million died? Well, according to the sanctimonious lecture provided by Burns, these times are even worse because of “misinformation and paranoia and the lying voter suppression.”





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Ken Burns Rants That Mark Zuckerberg’s an ‘Enemy of the State,’ Wants Him ‘In Jail’

Fox News media reporter Brian Flood reports PBS superstar filmmaker Ken Burns is swaggering around again and dropping bombs on Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, suggested he’s an “enemy of the state” who should be in jail. Didn’t liberals hate this kind of “enemy of the people” talk, or is that just about the news media, not the social media?

Ken Burns made a gushy valentine of a film for the 2008 convention celebrating Senator Chappaquiddick, Ted Kennedy, so he might want to rein it about who should have been in jail. A woman drowned in his car, but Burns described Kennedy as “the little engine that could that keeps going every single day, adding something to our agenda, adding something to this country.”

It happened on the “Sway” podcast from The New York Times, as he does interviews about his documentary airing next month on Muhammad Ali. Swisher asked him, “who do you think would be the version of Muhammad Ali in 100 years?” Burns replied “Stacey Abrams. She’s the person who has the closest chops to being somebody that we could carve into Mount Rushmore…She’s the real deal.” Then he added “I hope Zuckerberg is in jail by then.”

The Times podcast transcript then describes Swisher’s response: “[CHUCKLES].”

Burns continued his Zuckerberg rant: “This is an enemy of the state, and I mean the United States of America. He doesn’t give a sh-t about us, the United States. He knows he can transcend it. He can get away to any place. And so it’s just about filthy lucre, that’s it.” 

Burns then turned his attention to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. 

Because these people — and Sheryl is a complicit — the Nuremberg of this, is if it ever happens, which it won’t, will be pretty interesting,” Burns said. “The way that we’ve been able to temporize and say, ‘Oh, it’s okay, we’ll just go a little bit further,’ right?” 

Host Kara Swisher answered, “Yeah,” and moved on to the next topic. How does Ken Burns suggest Jewish billionaires like Zuckerberg and Sandberg should get a “Nuremberg” trial, like the Nazis did? But Swisher just moved on to discussing deepfakes.

PS: Abigail Streetman reported on a different segment of the podcast, on Burns being hammered from the Left on being a white male from New Hampshire covering black topics like jazz and Mohammed Ali. 



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Ken Burns Responds to Criticism About Being a White ‘Arbiter’ of Stories Involving Black Figures

Ken Burns is an award-winning documentarian whose most famous work includes The Civil War, Baseball and Jackie Robinson. He’s also a lefty — how could he be otherwise, after a career at PBS? But his politics don’t inoculate him from the current racial hysteria gripping the left. Social justice warriors who care more for superficial diversity than they do about content or talent are now attacking Burns for “taking up the lion’s share of attention” and being a white “arbiter” of stories about black figures. 

At the end of last year an essay from the Ford Foundation was featured in Current Magazine. This piece demanded that PBS “end it’s over reliance on Ken Burns as ‘America’s Storyteller.’” Shortly after, Beyond Inclusion wrote a letter to PBS that was signed by more than 100 documentary filmmakers. “This is about equitable support for BIPOC filmmakers to author their own narratives at all stages of their careers that rival the access and support seen by their white peers,” stated the letter. 

Burns finally addressed these allegations on The New York Times Sway podcast where he argued that he has been creating content with PBS for over 40 years and “as someone who explores American history, he can’t escape covering race.”

My beat is American history and what I found over the years is that every story, regardless of whether it’s obviously this — Muhammad Ali — is going to intersect with race. We know when we were founded, and we know why we were founded, we know our catechism: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. I’m a third of the way through the sentence and you have got to stop because the guy who wrote it owned slaves and didn’t see the hypocrisy and didn’t see the contradiction. So you can’t deal with American history, which is what I’m interested in in my heart — I cannot do this without touching on these stories.

Jefferson didn’t see the contradiction? That’s not true. But it doesn’t have to be. This is the age of “1619.” Burns is saying to his detractors, “Relax, you can trust me to give a woke take on history.” But that’s Burns’s problem. Ours is the implication that Burns — or any white person — can’t create movies about people who aren’t white. Racial reductivism isn’t just illiberal, it’s a creative and intellectual atrocity.

Burns also explained that when addressing the issue of racism throughout history “the expression of that outrage absolutely has to come from all different corners, but it also has to come from people like me as well, saying, ‘We have to stop getting away with this shit.’”

The podcast host asked Burns if he believed that the over 200 hours of documentary material he’s produced during his 4 decades with PBS was “taking up the lion’s share of attention.”

“If you ask how many hours Bill Moyers has, it would be 10 times that amount, right?” he said. “And let’s remember the guy who spoke before Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address spoke for two hours, and Lincoln spoke for two minutes. It doesn’t matter how many hours you have. It’s what’s in those hours or in those minutes.”

That’s right, and Burns — at least in the beginning — was offering something highly original and riveting, but also intellectually and artistically enriching. The Civil War fundamentally changed documentaries when it appeared in the late 1980s. It became a cultural phenomenon that gave PBS access to a far larger audience than it’s staple urban liberal tote baggers. Why wouldn’t it throw money at the guy?

PBS will surely cave and make a big deal about funding “BIPOC filmmakers.” But unless those auteurs can produce something half as compelling as The Civil War, Ken Burns will remain the go-to.



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