Ben Affleck made news basically for trying not to make news. The actor ask Finding Your Roots‘ Henry Louis Gates Jr. to censor his slave-owning ancestor from his family tree out of embarrassment. Gates asked Sony chief Michael Lynton for his opinion on Affleck’s plea through an email. That exchange, and consequently, Affleck’s ancestry, was made public on WikiLeaks.
So there’s no point in trying to censor now since the news is already out there. Affleck decided to come out and make a statement on the controversy.
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed,” he said in his statement, posted on Facebook. “The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”
You can sympathize with his case, but fixing such a past isn’t as simple as censoring — even though Affleck isn’t directly responsible for it. Read the statement taken from his Facebook page below.
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.
I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.
Skip decided what went into the show. 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. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. 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.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program. 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.
I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. 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. 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 being talked about.
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