"This is an important moment for all of us to really take a hard look at what we're doing and make sure that we are pursuing all opportunities," says PBS' president, adding that she hopes to meet with the group and discuss their concerns. "What is it going to take ... particularly for those mid-career filmmakers, so there is a solid place (for them) in public broadcasting?"
Complicating matters is the fragmented nature of PBS, where some shows are developed by affiliate stations, like the science program Nova, which is produced by WGBH in Boston.
The letter asks for data from PBS, including its staff diversity and figures over the past ten years for how many hours of non-fiction programming have been directed or produced by BIPOC filmmakers and how much funding has gone to them.
Filmmaker Grace Lee, a member of Beyond Inclusion who signed the letter, wrote about these issues in an attention-getting essay for the Ford Foundation that was reprinted in Current magazine, noting, "PBS must end its overreliance on Ken Burns as 'America's storyteller.'"
When Kerger was asked about the essay at a press conference in February, she struck a slightly different tone, saying she had to "respectfully disagree" with Lee's piece. Earlier, she had cited PBS' work with Black filmmakers like Gates and Emmy winning director Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool); the reaction prompted members of the group to put together the letter.
But Lee, a producer for the PBS series Asian Americans, says the issue reaches beyond any individual filmmaker.
"It's not about Ken Burns, it's about this public television system living up to its mandate," she adds. "On Asian Americans, we got five hours to tell 150 years of American history. Ernest Hemingway, one man, gets six hours of documentary in prime time ... This kind of disparity is something that I wanted to call attention to."
Even though his work appears regularly on PBS, Stanley Nelson signed the letter, hoping to help start a conversation that could help BIPOC documentarians.