Ben Affleck allegedly requested that his ancestors who owned slaves would not be included in his episode of PBS’ docuseries Finding Your Roots.

Sony Hack E-mails Suggest Ben Affleck Tried To Hide Slave-Owning Ancestors

E-mails exchanged between Finding Your Roots host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton appear to prove that, after filming his episode, Affleck approached Gates to ask that the final episode not include his slave-owning ancestors. In the e-mails, leaked as part of the Sony hack dump published on Wikileaks, Gates asks Lynton for advice on whether or not to agree, potentially putting the integrity of his program at risk.

“Here’s my dilemma: confidentially, 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. 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. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” Gates wrote on July 22, 2014.

Gates reportedly added that the relative in question “wasn’t even a bad guy,” and seemed unclear as to why Affleck was so adamant about keeping the information private. If news spread that Gates did leave out the ancestor per Affleck’s request, he wrote, “it would embarrass him and compromise our integrity. …Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”


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Lynton responded that Gates should omit the discovery from the show if he wouldn’t get caught bending to the will of a celebrity, writing, “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.”

Affleck was not named in the e-mails, but Gates refers to the ‘guest’ as “Batman,” and Affleck was filming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice at the time of the exchange. The actor has not commented on the matter.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Denies Acting On Affleck’s Request

Gates released a statement claiming that he decided to edit out information about Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor simply in order to tell a better story, not because of Affleck’s alleged request.

“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,” Gates began.

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,” he added.

PBS also released a statement supporting Gates: “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.”

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