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Who gets to tell whose story? In October 2020 an essay by documentary filmmaker Grace Lee called PBS to account, questioning why PBS overwhelmingly privileges the work of a single white filmmaker, Ken Burns, to define our national story. Lee’s essay quickly galvanized the BIPOC community and allies through a BIPOC-led group of documentary filmmakers and executives called Beyond Inclusion. Richard Jean So, a cultural analyst, English professor and author of Redlining Culture: A Data History of Racial Inequality and Postwar Fiction, brought an investigative eye to the publishing industry, collecting and analyzing data on authors of color. Even among major publishers, he found, literary fiction by writers of color might run only into the single digits.

In an era of growing recognition that myriad cultures make up the human experience, they asked, why is the work of filmmakers and writers of color seldom showcased? PBS and major publishing houses have defended their track record. PBS has also announced a series of steps taken to address the criticism, including more than $10 million in new funding, but the filmmakers are pressing for more transparency and dialogue.