Actor Ben Affleck has expressed regret for asking the makers of a discover-your-past TV show to exclude the fact that he had a slave-owning ancestor.
Affleck, 42, said on Facebook that he was “embarrassed” to have a show about his family “include a guy who owned slaves”, but added: “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.”
Gone Girl and Argo star Affleck’s request came to light last week in hacked Sony e-mails published online by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.
Broadcaster PBS has launched an internal inquiry into whether producers of Finding Your Roots broke the network’s editorial standards. The episode featuring Affleck was shown last October with the information about his ancestor omitted.
The review by PBS and station WNET began on Saturday, according to a statement by PBS.
“We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review,” PBS spokeswoman Anne Bentley said.
In his Facebook post, Affleck acknowledged that initially “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed.”
He said he lobbied Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard scholar who hosts and produces the show, “the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use”.
“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news programme,” Affleck said of Finding Your Roots, a show similar to the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? “You voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable. The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family.”
Mr Gates and PBS said then they did not censor the slave-owner details. Instead, more interesting ancestors of the actor emerged and Mr Gates chose to highlight them.
But in an e-mail exchange between Mr Gates and Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton – part of a trove of hundreds of thousands of e-mails and documents from last year’s Sony hack published online by WikiLeaks – Mr Gates asks Mr Lynton for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request.
“Here’s my dilemma,” says Mr Gates in one e-mail dated July 22, 2014. “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. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including [documentary film-maker] Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”
Mr Lynton replies that it all depends on who knows that the information was in the documentary already.
“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. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out,” Mr Lynton wrote.