Ben Affleck asked to censor part of his family lineage from the PBS series Finding Your Roots in a new emails published by WikiLeaks from the extensive Sony hack. The email exchange, which took place last July, involved the show's executive producer Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sony Pictures co-chair Michael Lynton.
In the leaked messages (first posted by the Daily Mail), Harvard professor Gates asked Lynton how he should handle Affleck's request, in which the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice star asked that the docuseries withhold the information about his slave-owning ancestor.
"Here's my dilemma,” Gates wrote to Lynton at the time. “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. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He's a megastar. What do we do?”
Lynton agreed that the situation was difficult. "It is tricky because it may get out that you made the change and it comes down to editorial integrity,” the executive foreshadowed, which prompted Gates to reply: "It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity. I think he is getting very bad advice.”
Gates also warned: "Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”
Throughout the exchange, Affleck's name was never formally mentioned, with the actor referred to as "Batman" and "a megstar."
During Affleck's episode, which aired last October, the actor learned that he had an ancestor who was a Revolutionary War soldier. "This is a big surprise and really exciting and I'm really proud of it," Jen Garner's husband said at the time. The episode also focused on the actor's mom, who was a "freedom rider" in the 1960s. There was, however, no mention of the particular family member who owned slaves.
According to Gates, the program decided to leave out Affleck's slave-owning ancestor in order to highlight and make time for the more interesting members in his family tree. "For any guest, we always find far more stories about ancestors on their family trees than we ever possibly could use," Gates told the Associated Press this past weekend. The historian also noted that the series has previously included the slave-owning members of families on the show, including Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper's relatives.
PBS also told CBS this weekend that it was not aware of the emails. However, PBS posted a statement on its website saying: “It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity."