The PBS series Finding Your Roots was reportedly suspended after the kerfuffle surrounding the revelation that actor Ben Affleck has an ancestor who owned slaves. The producers behind Finding Your Roots omitted this fact from the series at the request of Affleck. It was a fact which came to the attention of both PBS and the general public thanks to the 2014 Sony email leaks.
The emails revealed that Finding Your Roots had uncovered the fact that Ben’s great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves. The Associated Press later found documents that put the total number of slaves owned at around 24. This information was purposely edited from the series by producers; PBS and the producing station WNET had apparently not been notified of the fact.
— Mashable (@mashable) June 25, 2015
According to the Washington Post, the actor was “embarrassed” by the very idea of having such a relative in his past. In a Facebook message, Affleck said that the “very thought left a bad taste in [his] mouth.” When the show aired, there was no mention of any of Ben Affleck’s relatives in Georgia.
After a review of the situation, PBS determined that Finding Your Roots had violated the network’s standards by allowing “improper influence on the show’s editorial process.”
Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., who hosts Finding Your Roots, insists that such censorship is rare. Although Gates Jr. apologized, he suggested that the producers were placed under a great deal of pressure by Sony and Ben to comply with their request to omit the controversial information.
“[C]onfidentially, for the first time, one of our guests [on Finding Your Roots] has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including (prolific documentary filmmaker) Ken Burns.
We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. [Ben Affleck’s] a megastar. What do we do?”
Despite the excuse and PBS‘s initial justification that Finding Your Roots opted to cover more interesting ancestors, the series is now suspended. The AP wrote that it will remain suspended until the network is “satisfied with [the] improvement in the show’s editorial standards”.
Finding Your Roots was supposed to have already started airing its third season, but there’s no word when the show will return. PBS has reportedly not committed to a fourth year of filming.
— The Root (@TheRoot) June 25, 2015
Some may feel that it was unfair of PBS to punish Finding Your Roots, but the suspended series will have a chance to examine its integrity and strongly consider taking similar actions in the future. Regardless of the “star power” of the guest, the show must stick to its guns… and the authenticity of its guest’s roots.
[Image Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]