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

By Diane Haddad

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.