The Daily Mail was on this story first after going through the Sony archive through Wikileaks. What an incredible trove of gossip this hack has been.
So Ben Affleck was profiled on PBS’s Finding Your Roots last year, hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. During the research process, they found that Affleck was descended from slave owners. Which… I mean that sucks, obviously, but it’s not like it would be impossible for a white guy from the US to have ancestors who owned slaves, right? Thomas Jefferson, one of the most idealised American presidents owned slaves. A LOT of slaves. Um, he allegedly fathered children with his slaves. After harassing them.
So Ben finds out about his history. And, according to Gates, he asks that that information NOT be included in the episode. The Sony emails reveal that he asked for advice about what to do:
“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 filmmaker] Ken Burns. We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He's a megastar. What do we do?”
Gates was told that he should probably cut out but also presciently warned that if this were to be made public, it would look terrible.
Well, it was cut. And now it’s been made public. And, well, Gates doesn’t look terrible, since PBS is defending him on his integrity in dealing with the issue and how he made an editorial decision based on subject interest and not on celebrity but Ben? Ben kinda looks like a dick who has a lot of things to hide. Normally, for him, his hiding happens below the waist. But this – interfering with a PBS documentary and journalistic standards – is small. Very small. Gates attributes this to Ben’s management:
“I think he is getting very bad advice. I've offered to fly to Detroit, where he is filming, to talk it through.”
It’s the timing. These emails happened last summer but the episode aired in the fall. Gone Girl was released in the fall. So they were worried about the slave ancestor discussion dominating the news around the release of the movie. Which just seems so unnecessarily silly. Ben Affleck isn’t stupid. He’s perfectly capable of talking about this issue in a way that opens up more discussion for good. Here’s what I’ve drafted in 5 minutes:
“Finding out that I’m descended from slaveowners sucks. No one wants that kind of shameful mark on their family tree. But we can’t hide from America’s ugly truth. We have to do better than those who came before us. I want to do better so that my children’s children’s children’s children, one day, when they’re looking up their roots, will see that when I was here, I contributed to X,Y,Z great things. Right now, in the United States, we are still experiencing the horrible impact of slavery in our communities. We can’t move forward without confronting that ills that we’ve inherited. All of it. So if it has to start with me, so be it.”
Like I said, that’s a 5 minute effort. I don’t understand why it couldn’t have been more of an effort on his part to engage people in a conversation that couldn’t be more timely and more necessary.
Attached – Affleck with one of his daughters in LA this weekend.