Ben Affleck Addresses Backlash Over Request to Hide Slave-Owning Ancestor

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck took to Facebook to address the controversy over his recently revealed request to omit a slave-owning ancestor from his episode of Finding Your Roots Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Ben Affleck is putting it all out in the open. After a Sony email published by WikiLeaks revealed that the Batman v Superman star asked Finding Your Roots executive producer Henry Louis Gates Jr. to conceal his ancestral connection to a slave-owner, Affleck took to Facebook to address the resulting backlash. In a message to fans on Tuesday, April 21, the Oscar winner, 42, explained his initial reasoning for the request, and owned up to his family history.

"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," he wrote. "I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought of it left a bad taste in my mouth." 

That said, the married father of three insists his suggestion was just that — a suggestion. "Skip decided what went into the show," he noted of Gates, using the documentary filmmaker's nickname. "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."

Ultimately, he continued, there were parts of his family history that Gates deemed more compelling. "Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with," he wrote. "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."

Affleck's Facebook post went on to address some of the criticism aimed at PBS and Finding Your Roots for what some have perceived as a violation of the network's editorial standards.

"It's important to remember that this isn't a news program," he wrote. "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."

In the end, of course, the omission of Affleck's slave-owning ancestor proved to be even more problematic. The Argo director even admitted that he "regrets [his] initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included."

"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," he wrote. "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 begin talked about." 

Affleck's post comes on the heels of news from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety that PBS and WNET are "conducting an internal review" of the circumstances around the actor's Finding Your Roots episode. The review aims to "determine whether or not all of PBS' editorial standards were observed," the networks said in a joint statement to THR.

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