Thanks to the final round of leaked Sony emails that hit the internet on Thursday, we now know that one of the branches on Ben Affleck’s family tree contains slave owners. Something that, in a weird ironic twist, Ben Affleck tried desperately to hide during the filming of an episode of the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots. Wait – is that irony, or just shitty luck? Either way, Fred O’Bannion didn’t want anyone to know about his slave-owning relatives, and now we know. So whatever the word for that is, it’s that.
According to an email thread from July 2014 between Sony’s Michael Lynton and host Henry Louis Gates Jr., Ben Affleck had agreed to appear on Finding Your Roots, but he didn’t want them to find all his roots, so he asked producers to exclude the part about his family’s slave-owning ancestry. Unfortunately, Henry Louis Gates Jr. wasn’t so keen on the idea of hitting ctrl+alt+delete on his past, because in his words, “once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.” He also never refers to Ben Affleck by name, but by “Batman.” Somewhere in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne just started nervously scrolling through the Ancestry.com profile Alfred set up for him.
In response, Michael Lynton pressed his finger to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s lips in a shhhhhh…nobody has to know motion by explaining that they could just focus on other parts of his ancestry. When Ben Affleck’s episode aired on October 14th, they talked about a bunch of his relatives, but never mentioned the slave owner part.
Of course, Ben Affleck was busted once those leaked emails hit the internet. But now PBS is trying to say it was their choice to remove the Affleck family’s shady past. Uh huh. As if we’re not all picturing Ben’s muscle Matt Damon rolling up to PBS in a white windowless van in a ski mask, grabbing Big Bird, and telling them to take the fall “or else”. Henry Louis Gates Jr. issued the following statement regarding Ben’s episode:
“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.
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.”
While PBS has this to say:
“It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative. The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves.”
Being related to slave owners is probably one of the deepest family secrets you could have, so I can totally understand why Ben Affleck would want to skip that part. I mean, there’s shameful shit on all our family trees if we look hard enough (“Yeah, some of us don’t have to look that hard” just thought all of my relatives, who shamefully watched me eat a dozen Cadbury Creme Eggs this Easter). Maybe going forward, they could just do like we all did when we had to make family trees back in grade school, ie. make up a lie about being second cousins once removed with Alvin and The Chipmunks. We all did that, right?