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Ben Affleck

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Ah, Ben Affleck. Hollywood Golden Boy. Two-time Oscar winner. One half of the aughts phenomenon that was “Bennifer.” And the long lost relative to a slave-owning family member? Yikes!

Affleck’s apparent familial ties to an alleged slave owner was recently revealed from the latest batch of emails hacked from the original Sony Entertainment scandal back in December. This branch of his family tree was entirely omitted from his participation on an episode for the popular and Emmy Award winning PBS series Finding Your Roots.

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Finding Your Roots often features Hollywood’s A-list willing to have their ancestral roots discovered and discussed with the show host, the revered historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Affleck’s episode aired last year with his reported request of no slave owners allowed. But a Sony thread where he was referred to as “Batman” shows a discourse between Michael Lynton, a Sony Entertainment CEO, and Gates, Jr. looking for advice on what to do about Affleck’s controversial family member. According to Gates, Jr., “Batman’s” request violated PBS’ policies and by doing so would discredit the channel’s veracity.

Below is Gates, Jr. and Lynton’s virtual exchange:

Gates, Jr: “[C]onfidentially, 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. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”

Lynton: “no one [else] knows.”

“all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”

Gates, Jr: “To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”

Once the news of this convenient exclusion emerged online, Gates, Jr. was sure to clarify his claims of lessened PBS credentials. In fact, he stated that Affleck’s questionable family member wasn’t in the episode because he was kind of uninteresting. The scholar also made sure to applause Affleck’s largely more celebratory relatives which includes his mother, a 1964 Freedom Fighter:

The mission of “Finding Your Roots” is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. 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 program. In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry—including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

PBS, as a network and business, also released their own statement on the brewing controversy.

Truthfully, we can’t blame Ben Affleck for not wanting that part of his ancestry to be illuminated. That’s got to be embarrassing and potentially hurtful. But talking about it could’ve been a healing process of sorts and a more natural way for the filmmaker to contribute to discussions of race relations in America.

It’s just a thought. But we won’t hold it against Jennifer Garner‘s man.

Below is a clip of Affleck’s episode of Finding Your Roots.


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We Can’t Blame Ben Affleck For Not Wanting Slave-Owning Ancestor In His PBS Special  was originally published on