This weekend, leaked emails revealed that Ben Affleck successfully pressured the makers of PBS documentary series Finding Your Roots to suppress his family’s slave-owning past, an apparent violation of the broadcaster’s rules. Today, Affleck posted on Facebook to explain (but not apologize for) his actions, writing, “I was embarrassed.”
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves,” wrote Affleck on Tuesday. “The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Ultimately, Affleck expressed regret over his desire to conceal the information while defending the censorship request itself. Comparing it to an actor lobbying a director over what takes to use in a film, the Gone Girl star characterized his demand as part of “the collaborative creative process.”
“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program,” wrote Affleck.
The actor concluded his post by saying he was glad his story could contribute to the discussion of slavery’s terrible legacy, writing, “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.”
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.
[Henry “Skip” Louis Gates, Jr.] 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.
This matter came to PBS’ attention on Friday morning, April 17th. Professor Gates and his producers immediately responded to our initial questions.
In order to gather the facts to determine whether or not all of PBS’ editorial standards were observed, on Saturday, April 18th, we began an internal review. We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review.