The whole point of "Finding Your Roots" is to take an honest look at the past.
But one Hollywood "megastar" didn't like what he saw — and he got PBS to whitewash his ancestor's actions.
While participating in the 2014 PBS genealogy program "Finding Your Roots," Ben Affleck discovered one of his ancestors had been a slave owner and demanded that PBS cover up that fact when the show aired, leaked emails uploaded this week by WikiLeaks revealed.
"[C]onfidentially, 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," wrote Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the host of the program, in an email to Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton.
As the email chain continued, Gates noted that covering up the information “would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman” and if it got out it “would embarrass him and compromise our integrity.”
He added, “Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”
But when the episode aired, there was no mention of Affleck's slaveholding ancestor.
The omission was especially curious given how many other celebrities have been revealed on the show to have slaveholding ancestors.
"Anderson Cooper's ancestor was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him," Gates wrote in an email. "And Anderson didn't miss a beat about that."
On Friday, Gates released a statement on the debacle, defending the omission:
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.
PBS defended Gates in a statement released alongside his.
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