Ben Affleck’s family owned slaves, but Henry Louis Gates and PBS decided to keep it a secret


Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “Finding Your Roots” series on PBS is one of the most engaging programs on television. The show allows guests to trace their family’s history as Gates provides insight and commentary.

But Gates may have compromised editorial integrity by agreeing to hide a key fact about Ben Affleck’s family’s history.

When Sony was hacked and dozens of emails were leaked, one email exchange featured Gates addressing Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton regarding a request by Affleck. Once it was discovered that Affleck had family members who owned slaves, he asked Gates to omit the discovery from the show. While emailing Lynton, Gates was confused about editing the piece and complying with Affleck’s wish.

Lynton suggested that Gates remove the facts if no one knew about it beforehand. Gates responded by telling Lynton that the omission would be a violation of PBS rules and, potentially, compromise the integrity of the show.

However, the show aired in October 2014 and did not feature a segment that discussed Affleck’s slave-owning relatives. Once the email was leaked, Gates released a statement that suggested the omission only occurred because they wanted to focus on “the most interesting aspects of his ancestry.”

But while Gates may have attempted to protect Affleck’s image, he failed to think about the overall impact of the decision. There is evidence about how slavery affected Black lives. But Gates, PBS, and Affleck missed out on an important opportunity to discuss how racism and slavery affected White families over the years.   

A.R. Shaw
A.R. Shaw

A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.

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