Ben Affleck says he regrets asking PBS host to ignore slave-owning ancestor

Ben Affleck says he regrets asking PBS host to ignore slave-owning ancestor
"I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves," Ben Affleck said Tuesday on Facebook. "I was embarrassed." (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Ben Affleck says he was embarrassed to learn he had a distant relative who had owned slaves and for that reason asked the host of PBS' "Finding Your Roots" to leave that detail out of the story of his family history.

"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," the "Batman v. Superman" star said in a Tuesday statement on Facebook.


Affleck explained that he had lobbied Henry Louis Gates Jr., the show's executive producer as well as its host, "the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use," but that the host made the final call about content.

Along the way to making his decision, however, Gates sought advice from Sony Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton, and their chat about the Affleck camp's request went public last week when Wikileaks published a trove of hacked Sony emails.

"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 ... ," Gates wrote to Lynton, not naming names, and noting that the guest was not the only person with slave-owning ancestors who was featured in the show's second season. "We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He's a megastar. What do we do?"

In the conversation that had spun off from an unsuccessful request that the Sony exec present an honor to Harvey Weinstein, Lynton replied that he "would take it out if no one knows" but that was "tricky" because of the consequences -- both to Affleck and to the show's editorial integrity -- if word of the edit got out.

Gates said it "would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman," and worried about jeopardizing the show's brand.

In his Tuesday statement, Affleck cautioned that it was "important to remember this is not a news program" but rather a show "where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable."

The episode featuring Affleck aired in October 2014 and also included family histories of former NAACP President Ben Jealous and "Treme" and "Scandal" actress Khandi Alexander.

"I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story," the 42-year-old actor-director said in his statement. "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 .... 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."

Gates had issued a statement Friday explaining the decision to go along with the "Gone Girl" star's request.

"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 host said, noting that he maintains editorial control on all of his projects.

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