Ben Affleck, PBS Under Fire for Trying to Hide Star’s Slave-Owning Ancestor

Oscar winner asked network to censor “Finding Your Roots” segment, leaked Sony emails reveal

Last Updated: June 21, 2015 @ 12:31 AM

It seems Ben Affleck‘s ancestors owned slaves — but he didn’t want the public to know.

According to leaked Sony emails, the Oscar-winning star asked PBS to edit the information out of a “Finding Your Roots” segment after the details were uncovered during production of the program.

In an exchange that was among 170,000 documents and emails dumped last week by WikiLeaks, the genealogy program’s host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. turned to Sony chief Michael Lynton for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request to edit the episode, according to the New York Post.

“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,” the Harvard scholar said in the email chain from July 2014.

Gates, who is friends with Lynton, suggested that censoring the segment would be a violation of PBS rules, “even for Batman.”

“Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns,” Gates said.

Lynton, responded by advising him to honor the star’s wishes. “I would 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,” he said.

The exchange caused a stir on Twitter this weekend with some people criticizing Affleck for using his star power to influence the PBS show, while others defended him.

In a statement responding to the hacked emails on Friday, Gates defended the decision to edit out part of Affleck’s ancestry.

“We focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry — including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great-grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”

He continued, “We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series including many about slave ancestors-never shying away from chapters of a family’s past that might be unpleasant.”

PBS also released a statement saying Gates made an “independent editorial judgment” when choosing what would go into the episode.

Watch Affleck’s “Finding Your Roots” segment.