A hacked Sony e-mail posted by WikiLeaks Friday reveals that Ben Affleck demanded that the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” remove the fact that one of the actor’s ancestors owned slaves. In a July 22, 2014,
e-mail, the show’s host, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., asked Sony USA boss Michael Lynton what he should do about Affleck’s request: “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?” Lynton advised that the revelation be removed. “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.” Gates says the show’s producers know, as well as Affleck’s publicist and agent. In an e-mail back to Lynton, Gates wrote “To do this would be a violation of PBS rules. . . . It would embarrass [Affleck] and compromise our integrity. . . . Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.” The episode, which aired last October, included no mention of the slave-owning ancestor. PBS issued a statement late Friday, saying: “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.”
Statement from Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:
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.
Statement from PBS:
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.