Future episodes of the PBS documentary series “Finding Your Roots” have reportedly been postponed after an investigation into actor Ben Affleck’s appearance on the show.
Earlier this year, WikiLeaks published a trove of e-mail exchanges obtained from a high profile intrusion into computers at Sony Pictures. One exchange revealed that in the course of investigating Affleck’s family history for an episode of the show, it was discovered that the actor had descended from a slave-owning ancestor. According to the e-mails, Affleck asked the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., not to include that ancestor in the show and, after deliberation, Gates agreed.
PBS will only air a new season of the show after new staff have come aboard, including a fact checker and an independent genealogist, according to the New York Times. The new episodes will be “postpon[ed] … pending the production team’s implementation of staffing and other process changes that will significantly enhance the ability of PBS and WETA to oversee the editorial development of each episode on a timely basis, and to ensure that the problems that arose in [Affleck’s] episode #204 will be avoided in the future,” a statement on the PBS website reads.
In a statement after the e-mails were discovered, the “Gone Girl” actor wrote on Facebook, “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 … 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 … 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.”
But for some the controversy over slave-owning ancestors seems minor when compared to the controversy over hiding the truth. Others who appeared on the show, including documentarian Ken Burns and media personality Anderson Cooper, revealed that their ancestors owned slaves. “Had his slave-holding ancestry been revealed in his episode, Affleck would have been fine in the eyes of the public,” Washington Post writer Sarah Kaplan wrote. Newser writer Rob Quinn agreed, writing, "Fewer people would have heard about Affleck's ancestor if he hadn't meddled."
In addition, Gawker writer Gabrielle Bluestone called the segment in which Affleck and Gates would have discussed Affleck’s ancestor “mild [and] gentle.” “The segment, in which Gates is careful to end on Affleck’s mother – a civil-rights worker – comes across as mild and non-confrontational, and Affleck comports himself well,” Bluestone wrote.