In the seemingly never ending Internet treasure trove of headline-grabbing hacked Sony emails, purveyor of down and dirty inside details on celebrities and Hollywood in general, another name has been cast upon the altar of salacious sacrifice: Ben “Batman” Affleck.
Turns out when PBS’s Henry Louis Gates, host of the documentary series “Finding Your Roots,” was researching Affleck’s family tree for an episode tracing the star’s lineage, he found a slave owning descendent.
The secret-peddling site, Wikileaks published a searchable database of the Sony emails on April 16, and news organizations wasted little time in trawling through the previously private emails. The U.K.’s Daily Mail first broke the story of how the studio attempted to dissuade Gates from using the segment.
According to the emails, which were between Gates and Sony Pictures chief executive Michael Lynton, Affleck requested the series not run this particular tidbit, leaving Gates in a bit of a moral quandary.
"Here's my dilemma: 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. We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He's a megastar. What do we do?" Gates wrote last July, seeking advice from the studio head.
Lynton responded by saying it depended who knew about the discovery, and that if it wasn’t common knowledge at PBS they should get rid of it. Basically, if no one would catch the cover up, it wasn’t a cover up, right?
The duo eventually decides in the long run that to cave to the star’s wishes would both undermine the show’s credibility and embarrass everyone, including Affleck, should the news ever get out. Which, of course, it did.
In the end, however, the repugnant relative is left on the cutting room floor anyway, though Gates is claiming this is simply a natural byproduct of the editing process.
"For any guest, we always find far more stories about ancestors on their family trees than we ever possibly could use," he said in a statement to the Associated Press, which also reported the story. "We decided to go with the story we used about his fascinating ancestor who became on occultist following the Civil War. This guy's story was totally unusual: we had never discovered someone like him before."