ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Following the unfortunate leak of the [Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) trailer, Ben Affleck is now facing another controversy, and this time, it's allegedly all on him.

According to the Daily Mail, the leaked emails from the Sony hack scandal have unearthed a secretive side to Affleck that goes against his public persona. After filming a segment for Finding Your Roots, a PBS documentary series that traces the ancestry of celebrities, the actor reached out to the host to avoid mentioning one aspect of his family history.

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck

Affleck wanted Finding Your Roots and host Henry Louis Gates Jr. to edit out the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves. In one of Gates' emails, he mentions that this is the first time anyone has ever tried to censor their findings. Gates was corresponding with a Sony exec named Michael Lynton, who also pushed for the concealment.

The host, who is a professor at Harvard, released the following statement amid the controversy:

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...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.

This comes in response to the critics calling the credibility of the program into question. However, Gates even admits in the emails that consciously editing this out on behalf of a guest is a "violation of PBS rules."

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.

PBS, the network the program airs on, also released a statement:

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.

What really baffles me about this decision is how much he missed an opportunity. The defense has been that producers went for the most "compelling" narrative, but that doesn't make sense to me. Wouldn't a more compelling narrative be one that traces a family line from owning slaves to fighting for civil rights, including the struggle it took to get there?

For comparison's sake, here's how Anderson Cooper responded when he discovered his ancestor owned slaves:

It just seems like hiding from history is never the way to go, and considering Affleck's vocal liberalism (as seen on Bill Maher and other political arenas), it's strange that he would make this decision. I suppose he never thought it would get out.


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