The Ben Affleck dilemma that involved him wanting to hide his slave-owning ancestor from the world has now halted Henry Louis Gates Jr.’ “Finding Your Roots” series on PBS. The network is postponing the third season of the celebrity ancestry program and suspending the fourth season, because after violating the network’s standards, new ones will need to be put in place.
PBS released a statement Wednesday revealing that co-producers had hid from the network and their producing station that Affleck requested to omit his great-great-great-grandfather who owned 24 slaves from the show. The station says that the first time they heard about the issue was when the email exchange between Gates and Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton went public.
“These reports marked the first time that either PBS or WNET learned of this request,” PBS said Wednesday.
PBS began investigating the matter after it was discovered. They will be pulling the episode from any platform that the series is distributed, including on-air, digitally and home videos.
Gates released a statement apologizing for keeping this information from PBS and forcing them to compromise their integrity. He said he is working with the network to come up with new guidelines
WikiLeaks made available the private email exchange between Gates and a Sony executive in April. The emails, which were written in July of 2014, included Gates telling the executive that a “megastar” wanted information of his slave-owning ancestor kept off the show.
Gates wrote, “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 (documentary filmmaker) Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”
The Sony executive then told Gates that it was all a matter of who would find out that the information was being omitted from the program.
Once the emails leaked, Affleck wrote on his Facebook page that he wanted to withhold his ancestor from “Finding Your Roots” because he was “embarrassed.”
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves,” wrote Affleck. “I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Gates and PBS said at the time that they did not omit the information from the show but simply decided to focus on more interesting parts of Affleck’s lineage.