Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.

Arts and Entertainment

Ben Affleck Had Slaveowner Ancestor Scrubbed In PBS Documentary

Support your source for local news!
Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.

Hollywood actor and upcoming Batman Ben Affleck has a slaveowner in his family tree. He was able to keep that a secret—until now.An email conversation uncovered in the Wikileaks dump of the Sony Hack earlier this week shows that Affleck asked the producers of PBS' Finding Your Roots series to scrub that ugly detail of his family history. The series, hosted by African-American studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., traces the family history of famous Americans who appear on the show.

In emails with current Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton from July, Gates asks the Sony exec for advice on how to handle Affleck's request. "[F]or 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," Gates wrote. "We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He's a megastar. What do we do?"

"I would take it out if no one knows," replied Lynton. "But if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky." Whoops.

Affleck isn't ever mentioned by name in the email, but a sly joke by Gates offers the reveal: "To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman."

Support for LAist comes from

As much as Affleck seems to think that detail about his ancestry was too embarrassing to reveal, Gates mentions other notable guests on the show also had the ugly reality of slave-owning in their family's past. "Now Anderson Cooper's ancestor was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him. Of course, the slave was promptly hanged. And Anderson didn't miss a beat about that," he wrote. Affleck's slave-owning ancestor apparently "wasn't even a bad guy."

In response to the uncovered emails, PBS and Gates defended their stance on how they handled Affleck's family history in a pair of statements on Friday. "In the case of Mr. Affleck—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," said Gates.

PBS stood by their host's decision:

It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative. The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves.

A preview of the Finding Your Roots episode featuring Ben Affleck

[via New York Daily News]

Most Read