Ben Affleck has issued an apology and shed light on why he asked to have a slave-owning ancestor edited out of the PBS program “Finding Your Roots.”
In a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday, Affleck gave his take on the request to scrub his ancestry, which was revealed in the WikiLeaks archive of a leaked conversation between Sony Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton and the genealogy show’s host and producer Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr.
“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,” Affleck wrote.
“Skip decided what went into the show. 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 continued.
“Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it’s his show and I knew that going in. I’m proud to be his friend and proud to have participated.”
The email chain showed Gates and longtime friend Lynton discussing a request from the star to remove part of his family history.
“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,” Harvard scholar Gates said in the thread, sent in July 2014.
Lynton advised Gates to “take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that 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.”
But Gates worried that the censorship “would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”
The episode aired without any reference to Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor. However, PBS announced Tuesday it would be investigating the matter.
“PBS and WNET are conducting an internal review led by our respective programming teams of the circumstances around the ‘Finding Your Roots’ episode ‘Roots of Freedom,'” the public broadcasting network’s statement said.
“This matter came to PBS’ attention on Friday morning, April 17th. Professor (Henry Louis) Gates and his producers immediately responded to our initial questions. In order to gather the facts to determine whether or not all of PBS’ editorial standards were observed, on Saturday, April 18th, we began an internal review. We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review.”
Read Affleck’s full statement:
After an exhaustive search of my ancestry for “Finding Your Roots,” it was discovered that one of my distant relatives was an owner of slaves.
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.
Skip decided what went into the show. 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. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it’s his show and I knew that going in. I’m proud to be his friend and proud to have participated.
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.
I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. 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. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.