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In a series of WikiLeaks emails, the genealogy program’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., emailed Sony chief Michael Lynton asking for “advice” regarding the actor’s request, according to the New York Daily News.
“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,” Gates said in an email to Lynton in the July 22, 2014, email chain.
Gates went on to say that if word got out about the censoring, the brand would be tarnished and, “even for Batman,” it would be a violation of PBS rules.
“Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns,” Gates continued in the email, suggesting the actor’s ancestor “wasn’t even a bad guy.”
“Now Anderson Cooper‘s ancestor was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him. Of course, the slave was promptly hanged. And Anderson didn’t miss a beat about that,” wrote Gates.
“We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” Gates inquired of Lynton, to which the Sony chief replied: “I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”
Gates defended the decision to edit out Affleck’s ancestor in a statement posted Friday on PBS’ website.
Statement from professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Regarding Finding Your Roots Episode “Roots of Freedom”
The mission of Finding Your Roots is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series, including many about slave ancestors — never shying away from chapters of a family’s past that might be unpleasant. Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program. In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry — including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great-grandfather who was an occult enthusiast and his mother, who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
PBS also issued a statement supporting Gates’ decision.
Statement from PBS Regarding Finding Your Roots Episode “Roots of Freedom”
It is clear from the exchange how seriously professor Gates takes editorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately 10 hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative. The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves.
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