Ac­tor says he felt ashamed

Af­fleck apol­o­gizes for urg­ing PBS show to con­ceal his slave-own­ing kin.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Scott Collins

Ben Af­fleck says he’s sorry about try­ing to con­ceal a branch of his fam­ily tree that in­cluded a slave owner.

The movie star and direc­tor — whose fam­ily his­tory was ex­am­ined in Septem­ber on the PBS ge­neal­ogy se­ries “Find­ing Your Roots” — urged the pro­duc­ers to delete a ref­er­ence to an an­ces­tor who had owned slaves. As an up­roar en­sued this week and hacked emails about the dust-up were pub­lished on Wik­iLeaks, Af­fleck took to Face­book late Tues­day to apol­o­gize and ex­plain.

“I didn’t want any tele­vi­sion show about my fam­ily to in­clude a guy who owned slaves,” Af­fleck wrote. “I was em­bar­rassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

In hind­sight, he added, “I re­gret my ini­tial thoughts that the is­sue of slav­ery not be in­cluded in the story. 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’s worth not­ing that other celebri­ties in­ter­viewed for “Find­ing Your Roots” had an eas­ier time grap­pling with the sub­ject than Af­fleck did. Derek Jeter, An­der­son Cooper and film­maker Ken Burns dis­cussed their slave-own­ing an­ces­tors.

“It’s a com­mon story,” said Darnell Hunt, direc­tor of the Ralph J. Bunche Cen­ter for African Amer­i­can Stud­ies at UCLA. “Lots of Amer­i­cans have dis­tant rel­a­tives who were im­pli­cated one way or an­other in the in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery.

“What’s more in­ter­est­ing,” Hunt added, “is the de­ci­sion not to talk about this on a show that’s de­voted to trac­ing one’s roots.”

The con­tro­versy has made Af­fleck a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism, es­pe­cially given that his out­spo­ken lib­eral pol­i­tics have made him an en­emy to con­ser­va­tives.

But it’s also brought un­wel­come at­ten­tion to PBS and WNET-TV, the New York mem­ber sta­tion that pro­duces “Find­ing Your Roots.”

The public broad­caster said Tues­day that it will con­duct an in­ter­nal re­view af­ter ques­tions were raised about the Af­fleck episode.

“In or­der to gather the facts to de­ter­mine whether or not all of PBS’ ed­i­to­rial stan­dards were ob­served ... we be­gan an in­ter­nal re­view,” read a state­ment from PBS and WNET.

The Af­fleck mat­ter came to light in emails that were hacked from Sony last year and more re­cently dis­trib­uted widely through the web­site Wik­iLeaks.

Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., the Har­vard pro­fes­sor who hosts the se­ries about celebri­ties get­ting in touch with their fam­ily trees, was trou­bled by Af­fleck’s re­quest to delete men­tion of a slave-own­ing rel­a­tive. Iden­ti­fy­ing Af­fleck only as a “megas­tar,” he asked for ad­vice from friend and Sony boss Michael Lyn­ton, who ad­vised him to ac­cede to the celebrity’s re­quest but cau­tioned that the sit­u­a­tion could get “tricky” if word got out. The episode aired in Septem­ber.

Once the mat­ter be­came public late last week, Gates is­sued a state­ment say­ing that he re­tained full ed­i­to­rial con­trol over “Find­ing Your Roots” and that the de­ci­sion was made to fo­cus on the “most com­pelling” el­e­ments of the Af­fleck fam­ily’s past. That in­cluded a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War an­ces­tor and a mother who marched for civil rights, but no slave owner. Separately, PBS said Fri­day that it chalked up the Aff leck omis­sion to “in­de­pen­dent ed­i­to­rial judg­ment” and added that the “range and depth of sto­ries on ‘Find­ing Your Roots’ speak for them­selves.”

But Michael Getler, the PBS om­buds­man, blasted the re­sponses from Gates and PBS as “not cred­i­ble.” On Tues­day, he added a new col­umn as­sail­ing Gates’ de­ci­sion as a “bad one” and not­ing that the scholar had failed to no­tify PBS of the Af­fleck is­sue when it first arose. The net­work, mean­while, was “asleep at the switch,” he wrote.

For his part, Af­fleck said that “Find­ing Your Roots” is “not a news pro­gram” and that he ap­proached his re­quest the same way he might lobby a direc­tor about which takes to use dur­ing post­pro­duc­tion on a movie. “This is the col­lab­o­ra­tive cre­ative process,” Af­fleck wrote.

But even af­ter all the con­tro­versy, Af­fleck says he’s proud he par­tic­i­pated in “Find­ing Your Roots.” “While I don’t like that the guy is an an­ces­tor [of mine], I am happy that as­pect of our coun­try’s his­tory is be­ing talked about,” he wrote.

Lau­ren Vic­to­ria Burke AP

BEN AF­FLECK had his fam­ily his­tory ex­am­ined on “Find­ing Your Roots.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.