Whether or not you agree with WikiLeaks’ decision to republish (and organize, and itemize) the hacked Sony documents that were allegedly (but probably not) pilfered by a fraternity of hackers on the orders of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un over his portrayal as a margarita and Katy Perry-loving psycho who gets his face burned off in The Interview, they’re floating about in the ether once more.
And the biggest reveal from the re-up has been the news that Ben Affleck, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind Argo and upcoming baritone-voiced Batman in next year’s Batman vs. Superman, pressured esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to nix a bit on his PBS celebrity ancestry program Finding Your Roots about one of his slave-owning ancestors.
In the Sony documents, Gates sent an email to Sony CEO/pal Michael Lynton. “[C]onfidentially, 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,” Gates wrote to Lynton. “We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” He later referred to the subject as “Batman.”The “Batman” in question turned out to be Affleck, and when the piece aired in October, it included no mention of Affleck’s slave-owning great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Cole.
Now, in the interest of fairness, participating in a program like Finding Your Roots leaves you open to criticism. We all have relatives we’d like to disown—a creepy uncle, a wacky cousin, you name it. And if you’re a white American with deep roots in this country, given the oft-unfortunate history of the U. S. of A., your family tree is bound to have some serious assholes in play. Not wanting to be associated with a slaveowner several generations down the line isn’t the biggest crime in the world, and Affleck is no racist. Heck, he’s both campaigned for Obama and established the Eastern Congo Initiative providing aid to the people of eastern Congo.
But requesting Gates edit his PBS program was certainly an error in judgment, and one that Affleck copped to in a public apology post to his Facebook page.
“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,” Affleck wrote.”
“I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story,” he continued. “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. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don't like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country's history is being talked about.”
Gawker has reportedly acquired the Finding Your Roots shooting script, and it unearthed that one of Affleck’s ancestors was Benjamin Cole, a wealthy landowner in Savannah, Georgia.
The following exchange between Gates and Affleck is included in the script obtained by Gawker:
GATES: This is the slave schedule of the 1850 Census. In 1850, they would list the owner of slaves in a separate Census.AFFLECK: There’s Benjamin Cole, owned 25 slaves.GATES: Your third great-grandfather owned 25 slaves. He was a slave owner.GATES (in voiceover): These holdings put Benjamin Cole among the southern elite. Only about 10 percent of all slave holders owned 20 slaves or more.AFFLECK: God. It gives me kind of a sagging feeling to see, uh, a biological relationship to that. But, you know, there it is, part of our history.GATES: But consider the irony, uh, in your family line. Your mom went back fighting for the rights of black people in Mississippi, 100 years later. That’s amazing.AFFLECK: That’s pretty cool.GATES: That’s pretty cool.AFFLECK: Yeah, it is. One of the things that’s interesting about it is like we tend to separate ourselves from these things by going like, you know, oh, well, it’s just dry history, and it’s all over now, and this shows us that there’s still a living aspect to history, like a personal connection. By the same token, I think it’s important to recognize that, um, in looking at these histories, how much work has been done by people in this country, of all kinds, to make it a better place.
For the rest, head over to Gawker.