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April 18, 2015

Ben Affleck requested slave-owning ancestor to be excluded from PBS show

Actor Ben Affleck asked Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates to leave out information about his ancestor owning slaves for the PBS show Finding Your Roots, according to emails between a Sony official and Gates posted on WikiLeaks.

The email, sent on July 22, 2014, from Gates to Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton has Gates noting that a guest  had requested information about his slave-owning ancestors edited out of the show:

I need your advice:  I'm on a flight to L.A. for the TCA Press Tour.  We launch season two of Finding Your Roots tomorrow at noon, and four celebrities, including Nas, are showing up.  Here's my dilemma:  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 Ken Burns.  We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found.  He's a megastar.  What do we do?

While Affleck's name is never mentioned, the "megastar" in question is referred to as "Batman." Affleck portrays the character of Batman in the upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Affleck did appear on the show, but footage of Affleck being presented with the history of a less controversial ancestor of his was included instead:

In the email exchange, Gates mentions that CNN anchor and reporter Anderson Cooper had no trouble allowing footage to be included about his slave-owning ancestor:

Gates told that they choose not to include Affleck's ancestor because it  "wasn’t as interesting as the others that made the cut.” The exchange does not indicate that a final decision was made by Gates based on Affleck's request.