Ben Affleck asked PBS to ignore slave-owning ancestor on 'Finding Your Roots'

By Kate Stanton
Ben Affleck wanted PBS to censor details about his slave-owner ancestor. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI.
Ben Affleck wanted PBS to censor details about his slave-owner ancestor. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI. | License Photo

NEW YORK, April 20 (UPI) -- Ben Affleck wanted PBS to edit out a slave-owning member of his family tree, according to hacked Sony emails released by Wikileaks last week.

In a July 2014 email exchange between Henry Louis Gates Jr., who hosts the genealogy show Finding Your Roots, and Sony USA chief Michael Lynton, the two discuss Affleck's request to have details about a slave-owning ancestor kept out of the show.


"One of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors -- the fact that he owned slaves," Gates told Lynton. "Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns.

"We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found," Gates said. "He's a megastar. What do we do?"

"To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman," Gates added.

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


Affleck's episode of Finding Your Roots premiered in October 2014. It made no mention of the slave-owning ancestor in question.

Both Gates and PBS defended the episode in statements on the network's website, arguing that they only included details about Affleck's family history that resulted in the most "compelling" television.

"I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program," Gates said.

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.

PBS said that the emails show "how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity."

"[Gates] 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 network added.

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