Ben Affleck asked show to keep slave-owning ancestor hidden

Ben Affleck requested that the PBS documentary series Finding Your Roots not reveal he had a slave-owning ancestor, according to emails published online by whistleblower site WikiLeaks, and the information never appeared on the programme.

Ben Affleck asked show to keep slave-owning ancestor hidden

PBS and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, host of the show that traces the ancestry of well-known guests, said in separate statements that they didn’t censor the slave-owner details.

Instead, more interesting ancestors of the actor emerged and Gates chose to highlight them in October’s segment featuring Affleck, they said in the statements posted on the PBS website.

“For any guest, we always find far more stories about ancestors on their family trees than we ever possibly could use,” Gates said.


He said finding slave-owning ancestors was very common in the series, and noted Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper were two guests with slave-owner relatives.

In Affleck’s case, “we decided to go with the story we used about his fascinating ancestor who became on occultist following the Civil War.

This guy’s story was totally unusual: we had never discovered someone like him before,” he said.

Affleck’s representatives did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The award-winning actor and filmmaker has also organised humanitarian work in Africa.

The email chain between Gates and Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton was part of a trove of hundreds of thousands of emails and documents from last year’s Sony hack that WikiLeaks put into a searchable online archive on Thursday.

In their email exchange, Gates asks Lynton for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request.

“I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out,” Lynton replies.

After going back and forth, the two seem to decide censoring the information is a bad idea, with Gates writing later on July 22 that if the public learned of it, “It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity,” and adding: “Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”


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