Ben Affleck was featured in Finding Your Roots last year on PBS. During the research process, it was discovered that he had ancestors who were slave owners. He asked Henry Louis Gates Jr (Skip) to not include that part in the episode. Click here for a refresher if you missed that article from Monday.
Affleck has now posted an explanation on his Facebook page. To me, it’s disappointing. Here’s the full text:
After an exhaustive search of my ancestry for "Finding Your Roots," it was discovered that one of my distant relatives was an owner of slaves.
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.
Skip decided what went into the show. I lobbied him the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use. This is the collaborative creative process. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it's his show and I knew that going in. I'm proud to be his friend and proud to have participated.
It's important to remember that this isn't a news program. Finding Your Roots is a show where 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.
I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. 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. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. 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.
The comparison to acting and actors lobbying directors for specific takes… of interpretive creative character presentation? How is that the same as requesting to edit out a FACT? He says he’s embarrassed. I’m embarrassed he tried to make that connection.
And the next paragraph is sh-t too, when Affleck defensively (and patronisingly) cautions that Finding Your Roots isn’t a news program so it shouldn’t be held to the same standard?
It’s PBS. The whole point of a show like Finding Your Roots on PBS hosted by an esteemed academic like Henry Louis Gates Jr is to EDUCATE. It’s not a f-cking talk show. It’s a learning show. The point is to learn something from your past. And, God, given where we are now, what’s still happening, with inequality continuing to be a stain not just in America but everywhere, how would this not have been an opportunity to educate and enlighten?
The final paragraph? The one that begins with “I regret my initial thoughts”? That’s the ONLY part of this statement that works. But the effect of it, because it’s buried under two other paragraphs of excuses and rationalisations, is lost. If he’d gone straight from “left a bad taste in my mouth” to “I regret my initial thoughts”, this would have been perfect. It would have been tight. It would have been so respectful.
And this guy is a director. He’s supposed to know about what to cut to tell the right story. But that wasn’t the motivation here, obviously. The motivation here was self-preservation fueled by indignation. He’s indignant. It’s jumping off the page. And that’s what’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth – the lack of grace with which he handled this and the missed opportunity here to engage in a meaningful, ego-free conversation.
Attached – Ben and Jennifer Garner out together in Brentwood yesterday. How will she bail him out this time?
Also attached – Sarah sent me the link to how Anderson Cooper reacted. Ben Affleck could learn from it.