Ben Affleck finally responded to the extensive media coverage of his latest misstep. The flap started last week when WikiLeaks published a searchable database of more than 170,000 Sony Pictures e-mails. A message from that database shows that Affleck asked producers from PBS’ “Finding Your Roots” to omit his slave-owning relative from an episode about him that aired last fall.
PBS is now conducting an internal review to determine whether Affleck’s request and the subsequent actions of the producers violates the network’s editorial standards. Nearly a week after the exposure Affleck took to Facebook to explain himself:
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.
In a leaked e-mail to Sony Pictures exec Michael Lynton, ”Finding Your Roots” host Henry Louis Gates Jr. complained of censorship. “We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. What do we do?” he asked. “To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”
Gates, in an April 17 statement claimed that he’d decided to focus on Affleck ancestors more interesting than the slave-owner.
The mission of “Finding Your Roots” is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. 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. Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program. 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.
The network’s review reportedly began Saturday.