PBS Defends Decision to Omit Affleck’s Slave-Owning Ancestor

Bruce Wayne needs a time machine to repair his reputation.

affleck batman
PHOTO CREDIT: ComicBookMovie.com

Holy racism, Batman! Ben Affleck could be facing a reputation issue based on the behaviors of a family member who died long before he was born.

Before the Internet, if you wanted to troll someone’s past, you would have to feverishly sift through copies of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, gain a few dozen paper cuts, and hope you found a few nuggets of good information.

Now, however, one can easily start — and, depending on one’s level of influence — ensure circulation for any sort of story about any famous person.

Such is life the man that would be Batman.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He’s a pretty big deal.

finding your rootsIn his spare time, he is the host of the show “Finding Your Roots,” which is like a viewable Ancestry.com membership for famous people.

Based on several reports on the subject, Affleck was featured in a “Finding Your Roots” episode from last October, “Roots of Freedom,” which discusses his Freedom Rider mother, a Revolutionary War ancestor and his third great-grandfather.

WikiLeaks found an interesting email about Affleck’s episode, which it posted late last week: the actor reportedly asked PBS to edit out information about an ancestor who owned slaves.

As Gates wrote to Sony USA chief Michael Lynton:

“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 Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”

To Dr. Gates’ credit, he understood that Affleck was trying to avoid unwanted embarrassment rather than to hide his own personal bigotry.

Still, that’s gotta sting. The Sony chairman and CEO responded (via FOX News):

“On the doc the big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out. I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky.”

Affleck was working on his best caped crusader impression when this imbroglio took place. Now that Wikileaks decided to release the story in a particularly TMZ-esque fashion, Gates is responding to the media. This to the Huffington Post:

“Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program,” Gates said. “In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry.” The network expressed its support for Gates and his producers’ “independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative.”

Of course, Sony hates Wikileaks citing “safety, security, and privacy of our company and its more than 6,000 employees.” Affleck has probably asked for radio silence from his reps. And Gates continues to defend his choice to protect the Oscar-winning actor/director.

Imagine Sony, PBS, Affleck, or Gates is your client: What would you do? Personally, I’d curse the day someone invented the Internet.

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