PBS Investigating Possible Censorship of Ben Affleck’s Slavery ‘Roots’

ben Affleck the Accountant
Mike Pont/FilmMagic

PBS and New York’s WNET public-television station said Tuesday they had launched an investigation into the potential removal of information in the program “Finding Your Roots” due to a celebrity request.

The episode, which was broadcast last year, examined celebrity ancestry and genealogy and was hosted by popular Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Recent emails found as part of the cache of Sony Corp. documents posted on Wikileaks revealed that Gates agreed to remove a mention of actor Ben Affleck having slave-owning ancestors after the movie star made a request. Several media outlets have begun to examine the circumstances.

“PBS and WNET are conducting an internal review led by our respective programming teams of the circumstances around Finding Your Roots episode ‘Roots of Freedom.’  This matter came to PBS’ attention on Friday morning, April 17th. Professor Gates and his producers immediately responded to our initial questions,” the two parties said in a statement released Tuesday. “In order to gather the facts to determine whether or not all of PBS’ editorial standards were observed, on Saturday, April 18th, we began an internal review. We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review.”

 According to blog posts from Michael Getler, PBS’ ombudsman, the emails suggested that Gates was troubled by the request from Affleck, as he thought it would violate PBS policies.  Gates had written to Sony USA CEO Michael Lynton seeking advice, the documents on Wikileaks revealed.

“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 a statement provided to Getler. “In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry—including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”

PBS and WNET both told Getler they had no knowledge of Affleck’s request at the time they viewed cuts of the “Roots” episode that featured him or at the time the program aired.

If the information about Affleck was dropped due to his request, “it was and is unacceptable,” said Stephen Segaller, vice president for programming at WNET in a statement to Getler. “Doing so without Thirteen’s knowledge of those circumstances is also unacceptable.”

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 44

Leave a Reply

44 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. colleen blackmore says:

    afleck is an embarrising idiot, thow shoud never have been aired. I always enjoyed the show now I don’t know if its truthful or made up whats the point. Affleck is a true jerk.

  2. colleen blackmore says:

    colleen blackmore

  3. Sam Brown says:

    Don’t blame his ancestors but don’t give up any of their money that was acquired from Slavery either! Most if not all white people have gotten rich on the backs of Slaves, which most of them were white. Whites that aren’t rich were Slaves that escaped slavery BUT didn’t own and profit from Slavery. It’s a truth all whites don’t want to admit.

  4. ObserverMI says:

    Illogical and gutless.

    How anyone could blame someone for something their ancestor took part in is ludicrous and lacks any common sense.
    For him to feel shame for that shows his lack of logic and his gutlessness for not defining that for anyone who says different.

  5. charlesamiller says:

    NOBODY. CARES. ABOUT. BEN. AFFLECK’S. ANCESTORS.

    Just like nobody seems to care that Al Sharpton’s direct ancestors were slave owners.

    It’s a non-issue.

    The people perpetuating this race-baiting nonsense are the REAL “racists” in America.

  6. KAS says:

    Stop the bias end federal funding of PBS via The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

  7. ted says:

    Henry Gates assaulted a cop and Obama intervened for leftist POS criminal.

  8. Wes Botanica says:

    Ben, get over it. No-one is accusing you of slavery. Honestly, it’s history and so what if you ancestors were slave owners? the only people who would care enough to degrade you because of what they did, are idiots in the first place. You don’t have to atone for something you didn’t do and you don’t have to hide it either.

    • Sam Brown says:

      No Ben didn’t DO IT, but he sure PROFITED from Slavery!

    • NOLANOLA says:

      Therein lies my disappointment and disgust. Just another ”Hollywood actor.”

      • Lisa says:

        Yeah, ‘But I’m a Hollywood actor’, therefore, I’ve made up for the atrocities of my ancestors. I can sit back and relax like it never happened. Because that’s what everyone soooooo badly wants me to do. Yay me!

  9. ben-is-a-milksop says:

    Ben is a COWARD. Own your shit.

  10. harry georgatos says:

    Affleck is a fraud and phoney personality more interested in his Public Hollywood image and couldn’t care less about addressing the evils of black slavery. Affleck would prepare to hide ugly ancestral past then show a family tree history that could damage his Hollywood image. Affleck has shown what’s more important to him and the admission of black slavery has taken a back seat then coming out on the world stage condemning slavery as the evil that it was Mr Batman.

  11. Ken says:

    Interesting. The overpraised ARGO was also a skewed bit of “history”…the critical role of Canadians involved downplayed, and a wild escape ending that seemed, well, right outta’ Hollywood (because it was). Mr. Affleck should have just been honest about the Roots’ findings, and then spoken out dismayingly on the evils of slavery. But by not doing so, he will now pay for the sins of his forefathers. Dumb move.

    • Lisa says:

      There’s a Canadian version of the story and it’s much better. It focuses on how the Canadian diplomats saved the hostages. It had really nothing to do with what Argo was about. In fact, Argo really stole the spotlight from Canadians and their heroism.

  12. Jae Chon says:

    It would appear that Affleck is fine with Finding his Roots, just as long as those roots don’t coincide with Alex Haley’s Roots.

  13. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    This one is a major who gives a bleep column. If you were white Southern Born, chances are 90% that great, great, great Grandpa was a Slave Owner! The chances that Ben is a “Redneck Cracker” is null. WNET need not explain.

  14. Xmasevebaby says:

    Can’t wait until Bill Maher gets his hands on this one.

  15. Lisa says:

    To those who are saying ‘So what, his family owned slaves? We all owned slaves’. There is something seriously wrong with your moral compasses. Or maybe you know better, but don’t plum care. Except that you wouldn’t say it to a black person’s face, now would you? Makes me sick.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      Lisa: Many blacks also owned slaves and/or participated in keeping the slave trade intact. The point is, just about everyone probably has slavery somewhere in their family tree. Think of that before you go on another tirade.

      • Lisa says:

        Are you freaken kidding me?! ‘Many blacks owned slaves and/or participated in keeping the slave trade intact.’ ??? Where did you ‘hear’ that one? Are you actually blaming the victim? Really? And if you want another ‘tirade’ I’ll give you one. Not everyone has slavery in their family tree. You’re normalizing it and that’s not okay. That’s like saying the aboriginals didn’t mind giving up their land to the whiteman.
        Think about the Underground Railroad before you start on another ignorant lie.

      • Wes Botanica says:

        Lisa, the point is, we all know there were slave owners but it doesn’t matter that Ben Afflect’s ancestors owned slaves. Ben has nothing to do with that, and doesn’t have to deny, or atone for anything.

    • George Washington Carver says:

      How about we look into your background and see what your ancestors did? You’re probably some 40-something white supremecist closet transvestite anyway.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      I would love to know the history of using the phrase “plum”something… old wild west term. I love it! jv

  16. NOLANOLA says:

    I am so very disappointed in Ben. For the life of me, I can NOT understand why he would do such a thing. Even if he were to ”run for office” what the hell does that have to do with anything. It’s called ”background checks” and ”research” for a reason.
    THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN A NON-ISSUE, now it is One.

    • Lisa says:

      Ummm, because he’s racist! Simple psychology. He’s also not mature enough or self-aware enough to take the opportunity to say something about it. To change his family’s history by standing up and admitting wrong, instead of joining the cowards that they all were. It’s extremely arrogant to believe that his buddies would cover it up forever.

  17. Paully says:

    Wow WB and DC comics can’t get a break .. Ever. The new Batman is tarnished already, and what out of left field scandle or not..

  18. Contessa46 says:

    Folks, don’t get your ass in an roar–it’s a hour show of entertainment for the rest of us! It has no bearing on our lives–just human interest. Someone has to edit the show or extend to a two hour special and maybe that’s not long enough of you want every detail. So his ancestors owned slaves–Ben does not nor is he responsible or does he have to make excuses. I don’t know why he made the request, several other stars have had this history revealed too. Someone owned slaves and if your family is here from the 18th century there is a chance. Not fodder for “Variety” headlines–really a non issue.

    • Lisa says:

      Well, my family isn’t here from the 18th century! And it’s not ‘okay’ to have owned slaves. They didn’t just ‘own’ them either: they raped them, beat them, and murdered them. They stole their children and sold them. Stop normalizing it, it’s disgusting.

  19. Henry Louis Gates Jr….he of the phony “BEER SUMMIT”….who omitted the fact that he was friends with Obama prior to the alleged incident….which I personally believe was orchestrated by Valerie Jarrett .

  20. Lisa says:

    Wow. I don’t even know what to say. It’s bad enough his ancestors owned slaves, but denying it and covering it up. What else has he covered up? Just disgusting.

  21. E;lizabeth Smith says:

    Terribly upset at the “editorial license” wrongfully exercised with the death of honesty because of Affleck’s “celebrity!” BOGUS! WNET and PBS should be ashamed of themselves. Clean up your acts, folks! If this had been about an ordinary US citizen, the background report would not have been “sanitized” to disguise real history. Talk about burying an “inconvenient truth.” Sorry, Prof. Gates, WNET, and PBS — I won’t be watching this show again — I cannot trust you. How sad.

    • Sha says:

      You missed the entire point, PBS did not know the information was edited out…hence why they are launching the investigation.

    • Lisa says:

      I think this could have been a chance to undo some of the damage his ancestors did – to somehow make atonement. But he proved the apple doesn’t fall from from the tree.

  22. Joom says:

    Seems a non issue to me, this show despite all it’s academic pretensions is nothing more then fluff.

    • Sha says:

      You missed the entire point, PBS did not know the information was edited out….hence why they are launching the investigation.

      • Joom says:

        I didn’t miss the point, I’m saying this isn’t some hard hitting documentary about some earth shaking secret that requires it to maintain a high standard of credibility, when this is in reality an inconsequential series of fluff with no real effect on anything.

  23. Nicholas P. Schiavone says:

    If Gates was “Responsible” for the program’s content (as reported) then Gates was “Irresponsible.” His decision is not defensible.
    It reflects poorly on Affleck, as well. I feared Gates could be seduced, despite his intelligence & stature. Affleck always appeared thin-skinned & superficial. The best thing for PBS & WNET to do is understand what really happened and condemn anything that is not part of the core mission of either institution. PBS & WNET must show the courage that Gates & Affleck seem to sadly lack. If the charges are true, PBS & WNET can be redeemed immediately. Gates & Affleck, not so fast. They’ll need to take “The Road to Character.” This is a sad day in academia, film and public television, if the charges are true.
    We should hope not, but not hold our breath.

    • JFA says:

      Word! He doesn’t just ‘appear’ thin skinned and superficial he is both these things. Just look at simple minded, inept appearance on Bill Maher. Scant of education or analytic skill look at how simplistic the opening of Argo is which has Bens finger prints all over it. When people get pissy about celebs speaking their minds Affleck is the poster boy: uneducated, intellectually lazy, and nowhere near a FULL grasp of the complete nuance and entirety of an issue. Which his mindless blather on Maher fully demonstrated re the Muslim world. His position was a simple straw man trotted out for years: if you’re critical of any aspect of Islam you must hate all Muslims. As a liberal I guess Ben conveniently forgot that’s the exact same argument W and his ilk used in lead up to Iraq. If you’re critical of US foreign policy you must hate America But people clap cause he’s a ‘star’.

      • Janie says:

        It’s a free country. He doesn’t have to reveal anything if he doesn’t want to. The man works for his money and strives to do his best. I like people that are creative and workers. Too bad haters are always thinking they know why or the solution for everything! You don’t! What matters is what HE is and he is a productive citizen. That’s what everybody should be be.

      • GKN says:

        Good grief. Talk about fatuous, self-important and way out of line. If any of you want to know why Ben did it, just read yourselves. He is certainly intelligent enough to have predicted all these asinine reactions.

More TV News from Variety

Loading