PBS Postpones “Finding Your Roots” Due to Ben Affleck’s “Improper” Influence

PBS Postpones “Finding Your Roots” Due to Ben Affleck’s “Improper” Influence

PBS has decided to postpone future seasons of the Henry Louis Gates documentary genealogy series "Finding Your Roots" after determining that celebrity guest Ben Affleck improperly influenced producers to leave out a reference to his slave-owning ancestors. PBS also concluded that Gates should have informed the network "of Mr. Affleck’s...

PBS has decided to postpone future seasons of the Henry Louis Gates documentary genealogy series “Finding Your Roots” after determining that celebrity guest Ben Affleck improperly influenced producers to leave out a reference to his slave-owning ancestors. PBS also concluded that Gates should have informed the network “of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content.”

The network wants producers to hire another fact-checker and independent genealogist before airing the third season, and won’t commit to a fourth season “until we are satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence.” The episode profiling Affleck’s ancestry will no longer be distributed.

The 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment uncovered emails between Gates and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, made public in April,  in which the two discussed Affleck’s request to remove a segment mentioning that his ancestors were slave owners.

Both “Finding Your Roots” and TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” have identified slave owning ancestors of other celebrities.

PBS launched an internal review after the emails were made public. Gates said that producers decided to omit Affleck’s slave ancestors after determining that other relatives were more interesting. Affleck posted on Facebook that he was embarrassed by his family’s slave-owning past, but that Gates ultimately determined the episode’s content. (The show also said Affleck’s mother was a Freedom Rider in 1964 during the Civil Rights movement, a claim she has said isn’t true.)

The episode was the subject of much discussion in the genealogy community and beyond, raising issues including America’s ability to deal with its slaveholding past, the editorial integrity of Gates’ research team and the veracity of historical documentaries and reality series in general.

This New York Times article has a good overview of the events. This Variety article has more details on the internal review.

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  1. Interesting. I stopped watching Finding Your Roots because it seemed to me that in every episode featuring a white person, they were expected to express concern and dismay if there were slaveholders in their past. Understand that I find slaveholding abhorrent, but I do not feel the need to apologize for anything an ancestor did. I was not there. I will not apologize.

  2. I enjoy shows like Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You are?
    It is unfortunate the Ben Affleck requested that some of his past
    be left out of the show. It is also unfortunate that the producers, or whoever,
    granted his request because now I won’t have that show to watch. We can’t change the past.
    I don’t know if any of my ancestors owned slaves or not – it is possible that they did because
    I can trace my grandmother’s family back to coming here in 1635 and living in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area.
    Some of our presidents owned slaves. We just can’t change history.

  3. The show does get flak for what some see as focusing too much on slavery, and in this case it also got flak for not focusing on slavery. I’m not convinced that the producers cut the slavery mention because Affleck requested it, but the mere appearance of his influence, which was exacerbated when Gates didn’t notify PBS of Affleck’s request, was enough to hurt the network and earn the punishment.

  4. Shame on Mr Affleck for being ashamed of his ancestrial past. Without the past we can’t learn anything and do anything to affect the future. Why would anyone really comedown on someone for what happened 150-200 years ago. I think he seriously over reacted.

    Robert

  5. I think that this is uncalled for by cancelling this program. Mr. Affleck does NO have any control over who came before him. It is history and it is a sad history, but it happened. There others that it happened to also. This program among the other genealogy programs were so interesting and valuable to others who are researching their family history. I would love to have the opportunity to have assistance in finding out about my ancestry and solving the road block that I have reached. Thank you for letting me voice my opinion. Please bring back your program.