Ben Affleck’s Slave Owner Ancestor Impact ‘Finding Your Roots’


Ben Affleck found out he had an ancestor who was a slave owner when his family history was traced for Finding Your Roots, and it caused a controversial impact between the producers and PBS. The show was about to go into its third season before the studio postponed its air date. This was due to the improper influences of Affleck who attempted to keep his ancestor from the public.

PBS told sources the show will not air until the staffing team hires a fact checker and a genealogist who is independent. New York station WNET and PBS came to an agreement on Wednesday, June 24 stating, “producers of the show violated the standards of PBS by not protecting the editorial and creative shield of the production from improper influence, and the producers failed to inform the broadcasting programs of Affleck’s attempts to deter the shows content.”

Emmy-award winning Henry Jr. Louis Gates is an African-American Researcher and Harvard professor, who hosts the documentary. His role traces the family histories of public figures and celebrities. However, he violated the contract with PBS by hiding the information of the actor’s family member from the producers. The information of the actor’s family history was published on WikiLeaks after Sony’s emails were hacked in 2014. When reporters found out Affleck’s ancestor was a slave owner and it was not mentioned in Finding Your Roots, its impact left the media questioning PBS about the published emails.

Gates wrote Sony executive Michael Lynton an email in July 2014, asking about a megastar that wanted to hide information of an ancestor. The email stated, “producers have never had anyone try to change the information that is found in the study of their ancestry since it violates PBS rules. Omitting the information also opens the door for censorship, which would force the producers to lose control over the brand.”

After the emails were exchanged the episode of Affleck’s roots aired in October 2014, and the show did not mention his slave-owning ancestor. Gates said the producers found more interesting ancestors in the actor’s family history after the emails were published, and used those for the episode. Since the network was questioned about the actors missing information of his slave-owning ancestor the episode Affleck was in has been removed from all viewing platforms.

Although hiding the slave-owning ancestor for the actor is embarrassing for Gates, he and the other cast members are not being fired from the show. In a statement, Gates gave an apology telling PBS how thankful he is for their reflective internal review. He regrets not sharing his edits and assignments with the producers of the television show. Gates also apologized for having the members of PBS and WNET defend their honesty of delivering factual information. The professor also explained throughout his years of documenting genealogies he has always followed strict standards. He is also happy that PBS is working with the producers to clarify the guidelines, of what the cast members and the hosts should do if an actor tries to alter the information of their families history in the future.

The internal review began in April and it has taken three months to be finalized. PBS’s review stated, “its production standards controls the protection for creative and editorial processes from sources and funders causing improper influences and political pressures.” The case between the producers and the networks was held in the highly ranked law firm, Covington and Burling LLP, located in Washington and the final statement of the case declared, ” co-producers commitment to the fourth season is being delayed until the editorial standards raise PBS’s confidence level.”

Affleck apologized for trying to change the truth about his background, and he told the networks he was embarrassed for having an ancestor who was a slave owner in his family history, and did not want it to cause a negative impact on his career or the new season of Finding Your Roots. He did not want it publicized on national TV since the actor supports many liberal causes. He believed it would have been damaging to his reputation if the news was announced during his episode.

By Krystle Mitchell


Daily Mail: Professor Covered up Affleck’s Slave Roots

Variety: PBS Actor Ben Affleck had undue influences on Finding Your Roots

New York Times: Citing Ben Affleck ‘Improper Influence’

Photo Courtesy of Erin’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.