SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Outspoken, progressive actor Ben Affleck is not so outspoken when it comes to one branch of his family tree.
Hacked Sony emails reveal the actor asked Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host of the PBS show, ‘Finding Your Roots,’ not to reveal that one of the star’s ancestors owned slaves.
The show regularly invites celebrities to share their ancestries.
In the email dated July 22, 2014, now published on WikiLeaks, a troubled Gates writes Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment, Inc., “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. 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?”
The ‘megastar’ was Affleck, who at the time was shooting Batman.
Lynton wrote back, “The big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out. 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… all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”
Gates responds, “All my producers would know; his PR agency the same as mine… and PBS would know. To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”
Gates tells Lynton he thinks Affleck is getting “very bad advice,” and said he even “offered to fly to Detroit where he is filming to talk it through.”
In another missive, Gates points out CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper has a slave-owning ancestor who was murdered by one of his slaves. “The slave was promptly hanged and Anderson didn’t miss a beat about that,” he wrote.
In the end, any mention of Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor was removed from the show when it aired last September, and instead, the focus was on the star’s Revolutionary War ancestor, his great-grandfather who delved into the occult, and his mother who participated in civil rights marches in 1964.
Gates released a statement on Friday defending the integrity of his show:
“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 programme. In the case of Mr Affleck we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry.”
WikiLeaks has republished the Sony emails purportedly hacked last year by North Korea before the release of the movie, ‘The Interview.’ Founder Julien Assange issued a statement defending their publication, saying they show “the inner workings of a multinational media giant.”
Affleck has not commented.