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'Ben Affleck' TV bid to edit ancestor's slave owning past

By Ian Johnston

Published 20/04/2015

Ben Affleck stars in Gone Girl
Ben Affleck stars in Gone Girl

Ben Affleck asked the producers of a genealogy show to conceal the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves, according to a leaked email from an academic who hosted the US television programme.

The actor was not named in the emails but was referred to as a "megastar" and "Batman" (Affleck was at the time filming Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice).

In a message last July, Professor Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard University historian who presents Finding Your Roots, told the chief executive of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton: "Confidentially, for the first time, 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?"

It appears that the academic was asking for some friendly advice as Sony is not involved in the show.

Mr Lynton replied: "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. Again, all things being equal, I would definitely take it out."

They eventually appeared to agree this would be a bad idea, with Professor Gates saying "it would embarrass [Affleck] and compromise our integrity" if the news leaked.

A spokeswoman for the broadcasters, PBS, said that PBS did not know of the exchanges between Gates, Sony and Affleck .

"It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity," she said.

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