“Roots” Show Suspended Over Ben Affleck Ancestor Cover-up

Ben Affleck arrives at the Children Mending Hearts event honoring International Medical Corps in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

(WTNH)  It’s now official: “Gigli” was not Ben Affleck’s worst professional choice.

That instead would be the actor/director’s successful efforts to censor, from the “Finding Your Roots” episode on PBS in which his genealogy was revealed, the fact that he had a blood ancestor who owned slaves.  PBS announced last night the producers of the show violated network standards by allowing Affleck to influence what it called “the creative and editorial process.”

The network said it is now postponing what was to be the upcoming third season of “Finding Your Roots” (PBS didn’t learn about Affleck’s efforts to edit his family history until everyone else did last April.  But as the entity that broadcasts the independently produced series, it holds sway over whether and when it airs, and it ordered up the investigation that led to yesterday’s announcement). Besides suspending the third season, PBS is holding back on green-lighting a planned fourth season, pending revised editorial guidelines that include hiring a fact-checker and a professional genealogist..

It would be a secret to this day except for the website WikiLeaks publishing hacked emails between “Roots” host and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and an executive at media giant Sony, Affleck’s frequent movie-making partner.  Despite misgivings, Gates passed along to Sony Affleck’s request that details of his slave-owning great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side be left out of the program.  Eventually Gates and the other producers agreed.  Yet another classic case of the cover-up being worse than the crime.

Although that old phrase doesn’t apply here, because Ben Affleck committed no crime, and that’s what has so many people puzzled; no one chooses their ancestors, no one is responsible for their ancestor’s actions, and if Affleck, a committed liberal, was more interested in fleshing out his ancestors’ progressiveness…well, what a wonderful chance to say “look how far we’ve come, my family and my nation”?  Instead he said he was “embarrassed” by the revelation.  A few flexes of movie star muscle later, it was gone — for six months, until the Sony leak.  Who’s embarrassed now?  It’s quite ridiculous. 150-years and that many generations later, there’s a good chance 25 people you pass on the street today could have ancestors who owned, or favored the ownership of, slaves.

The entire episode calls forth multiple issues currently on the nation’s front burners: corporate hacking, race and identity, privilege and power. South Carolina.  For Gates himself, it’s a bruise; the same black man who found himself being arrested by a white police officer while he was trying to get into his own Cambridge, MA home a few years ago — leading to the famous “beer summit” between the cop, Gates, and President Obama — now comes off as kowtowing to a movie star on what was, in the context of his program, a pretty important racially-based detail.

Ben Affleck had resurrected his career by making and starring in some good movies.  And while Ben-ifer jokes aren’t likely to make a comeback, his push for censorship of his own family history doesn’t seem like the kind of thing the next Batman would do.




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