The only reason it even came to light that Affleck tried to hide his family's past is because of the Sony e-mail leaks. In a lengthy Facebook post shared Tuesday night, Ben admitted he asked executive producer Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. to leave out that part of his family history, and he now regrets not wanting to include the issue of slavery in the show.
Here's Affleck's full post:
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.
He wasn't happy about that aspect of our history being talked about until it came to light from an e-mail leak, but there you go. It's worth noting that Affleck is adding even more clarification in the comments section. Here's one of his responses on Facebook: "Thanks for the comments here. To clarify, because I see this story being framed as 'censorship' on some sites, when I told Skip I was uneasy about the slave owner, he told me he had not included it in his preliminary cut because there wasn't much detail - a name and no details, so he wasn't going with it to begin with. He also told me they would do a book later with a more complete story, and I said I would be happy to participate and talk about the issues more broadly."
Meanwhile, PBS and WNET have announced plans for an internal review to determine if the decision to change the segment was based on Affleck's lobbying, which would be "unacceptable."
Moral of the story: We all have family members we'd love to chuck from the tree. But you don't sign up for a TV program that exists to reveal those people if you don't want them revealed. This could've been an opportunity for Ben Affleck to do exactly what he said -- talk about that aspect of our country's history openly and honestly, marveling that a humanitarian activist like him could even have a slave-owner in his past. If he ever does decide to run for office, maybe he can find a way to have that conversation, since it seems like he's concerned with how his image is perceived and would love to frame this in a different way.