The [Latino] Future of PBS

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Made in L.A. 

A proposal by WNET to move POV and INDEPENDENT LENS to a secondary channel in New York leaves filmmakers frustrated

An Op-Ed by John J. Valadez

            NEW YORK – Yesterday afternoon several hundred independent documentary filmmakers, along with executives from PBS, WNET, POV, INDEPENDENT LENS and FIRELIGHT MEDIA gathered at the AFI theater on 14th street in Manhattan to speak candidly about a controversial proposal put forth by Stephen Segaller, WNET’s Vice President of Programming. 

            His bold initiative would assign POV and INDEPENDENT LENS, to premier on New York’s ancillary channel, WLIW, and would have the two signature series’ later re-run outside of prime-time on WNET.   According to Segaller, “By moving POV and INDEPENDENT LENS off WNET for the initial broadcast, and then showing them on WNET in a different time-slot we might increase viewer-ship.”

            There may have been people in the audience who agreed with Segaller’s assertion, but I didn’t run into any.

WHY THIS MATTERS

            POV and INDEPENDENT LENS represent the vast majority of nationally broadcast work by Latinos on PBS.   If New York moves independent film (and Latino filmmakers) to an ancillary channel, other PBS stations will follow.  The result: our work and our communities will be marginalized and funders will see our films as less important (less impactful) making it even harder to raise money to complete our work.  

            POV and INDEPENDENT LENS have shown more work by NALIP members than The American Experience, American Masters, Nova, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline and the PBS News Hour combined.

            I mention this not to criticize or critique.  I watch these programs and they really do represent some of the best programming in the nation.   Instead, I mention this to point out how vital POV and INDEPENDENT LENS are to the PBS ecosystem, and how important they are to our community and to an integrated civic discourse in our country.

            In truth, they represent the consistent core Latino presence on PBS signature series.         

            A study by Columbia University released last June called THE LATINO MEDIA GAP: a report on the state of Latinos in the US Media, written under the leadership of Frances Negrón-Muntaner, reveals some stunning statistics:

 

Series % of Latino or Latin American-Themed Episodes/Segments

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE                                                 2.7%

AMERICAN MASTERS                                                     2.6%

HISTORY DETECTIVES                                                   5.5%

AUSTIN CITY LIMITS                                                      6.8%

SOUND STATE                                                               3.2%

GENEALOGY ROADSHOW                                                7.0%

INDEPENDENT LENS                                                       11.2%

POV                                                                              14.9%

 

            According to the report, “Latinos had the highest levels of participation in POV and INDEPENDENT LENS, underscoring the importance of both series to diversity on television.”

            Below is an unscientific list (off the top of my head) of programs by NALIP members that have aired on POV and INDEPENDENT LENS.  From this work came: an Emmy Award, an Academy Award Nomination, Three Emmy Nominations, and a McArthur Genius Fellow:

 

THE STATE OF ARIZONA                                  STRANDED

LAS MARTHAS                                                 OUR DISAPPEARED

AL OTRO LADO                                                LA LUPE QUEEN OF LATIN SOUL

GANITO: HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR                 RACE IS THE PLACE

REPORTERO                                                     MAID IN AMERICA  

THE LAST CONQUISTADOR                                LOS ANGELES NOW

70 MILES                                                         PHOTO-NOVELAS

BIBLIOBURRO: THE DONKEY LIBRARY                PRESUMED GUILTY

THE LONGORIA AFFAIR                                     THE RECKONING

ELLA ES EL MATADOR                                       THE NEW MUSLIM COOL

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT                              PRECIOUS KNOWLEDGE

RECALLING ORANGE COUNTY                            CALAVERA HIGHWAY

PASSIN’ IT ON                                                  MAQUILOPOLIS

MADE IN LA                                                      FARMINGVILLE

TRUE-HEARTED VIXENS                                     SOLDADOS

EL VELADOR                                                     SEÑORITA EXTRAVIADA

THE SIXTH SECTION                                         EL GENERAL

CORPUS: A HOME MOVIE FOR SELENA               THE GRADUATES          

WONDER WOMEN!                                            FAITH EVEN TO THE FIRE

PLENA IS WORK, PLENA IS SONG                       LOST SOULS

LAS MADRES: THE MOTHERS OF PLAZA DE MAYO

PALENTA SIEMPRE PALENTE: THE YOUNG LORDS

 

            By my count that is 42 films (I’m sorry if I missed any) not including Latino themed work produced by non-Latino filmmakers. 

            If there were ever a time to speak up about why POV and INDEPENDENT LENS are important to Latinos across America: it is NOW.

            I urge NALIP members to immediately join INDIE CAUCUS  (http://www.indiecaucus.org/) and work with them to keep POV and INDEPENDENT LENS prime time on WNET in New York. 

            I also urge NALIP, and its members, to initiate a robust discussion with Public Television about how we can work with them to bring more Latino viewers into the PBS family.  We all have an interest in seeing Public Television thrive and I believe that this discussion should be a critical part of our upcoming media summit.

  

John J. Valadez is a Peabody Award winning filmmaker, and a founding member of NALIP who has produced three films for POV and INDEPENDENT LENS.  He lives in New York. 

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