Ben Affleck has admitted to asking a PBS program, Finding Your Roots, to edit out details of his slave-owning ancestor. The omission came to light after emails between the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates, and Sony chief Michael Lynton were released as part of the Sony hack. Gates asked Lynton for advice after a show participant, whom he dubbed “Batman” asked that the offending ancestor be eliminated from the program.
Affleck posted a message to his Facebook page that described the feelings that led him to ask for his ancestor’s removal, before responding to his own post with a further comment on the matter.
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”
He went on to compare his request of Gates to any other lobbying he would do during a project.
“I lobbied him the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use. This is the collaborative creative process.”
Affleck said that participation in the show required “vulnerability” on his part, and he expected that would be respected.
“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program. ‘Finding Your Roots’ is a show where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable. The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family.”
He concluded by saying he was glad the controversy contributed to the country’s discussion about slavery.
Later Affleck posted in the comments on his Facebook post that he thought the lack of detail on the ancestor is what led to his exclusion and that he had expressed willingness to explore the issue in a later project.
“Thanks for the comments here. To clarify, because I see this story being framed as ‘censorship’ on some sites, when I told Skip [Gates] I was uneasy about the slave owner, he told me he had not included it in his preliminary cut because there wasn’t much detail – a name and no details, so he wasn’t going with it to begin with. He also told me they would do a book later with a more complete story, and I said I would be happy to participate and talk about the issues more broadly.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that PBS has begun an internal review to look into the Affleck matter.
[Ben Affleck image courtesy of Getty]