Ben Affleck ‘embarrassed’ by slave past

Ben Affleck has expressed regret for asking the makers of a discover-your-past television show to exclude the fact that he had a slave-owning ancestor.

Ben Affleck ‘embarrassed’ by slave past

Affleck, 42, said he was “embarrassed” to have a show about his family“include a guy who owned slaves”, but added: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery.”

The request by the star of the likes of Gone Girl and Argo came to light last week in hacked Sony emails published by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Broadcaster PBS has launched an internal inquiry into whether producers of Finding Your Roots broke the network’s editorial standards.

The episode featuring Affleck was shown last October with the information about his ancestor omitted.

“We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review,” PBS spokeswoman Anne Bentley said.

In a post on his Facebook post, Affleck acknowledged that initially “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed.”

He said he lobbied Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard scholar who hosts and produces the show, “the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use”.

“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news programme,” Affleck said of Finding Your Roots, which traces the ancestry of well-known guests.

“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.”

Gates and PBS said they did not censor the slave-owner details. Instead, more interesting ancestors of the actor emerged and Gates chose to highlight them.

However, in an email exchange between Gates and Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton — part of a trove of hundreds of thousands of emails and documents from last year’s Sony hack published by WikiLeaks — Gates asks Lynton for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request.

“Here’s my dilemma,” says Gates in one email dated July 22, 2014.

“Confidentially, for the first time, one of our guests 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 film-maker) Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”

Lynton replied that it all depends on who knows that the information was in the documentary already.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox