Ben Affleck has identified his slave owner ancestor who became the subject of a controversy when it was disclosed the actor asked the producer of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” to cut mention of the fact from the documentary series.
“A lot of people have been asking who the guy was,” Affleck said in a Facebook comment Wednesday. “His name was Benjamin Cole – lived in Georgia on my Mom’s side about six generations ago.”
Affleck posted a statement to his Facebook page Tuesday night saying he regretted asking his friend, producer Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., to leave out mention of his ancestor.
Gates said he did not include the information in the final version of the show because he said he had more interesting slave holders to spotlight. The statement touched off a debate over censorship for a friend.
Affleck’s slave-holding ancestor was not named by Gates, who is also a Harvard professor. Nor was he named in Affleck’s Facebook Tuesday post expressing remorse for raising the issue of omitting him from the program. The reaction to the post led to the actor identifying the ancestor the next day on Facebook.
“To clarify, because I see this story being framed as ‘censorship’ on some sites, when I told Skip I was uneasy about the slave owner, he told me he had not included it in his preliminary cut because there wasn’t much detail – a name and no details, so he wasn’t going with it to begin with,” Affleck commented.
“He also told me they would do a book later with a more complete story, and I said I would be happy to participate and talk about the issues more broadly.”
In his earlier Facebook statement, Affleck said he didn’t want “any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”
He acknowledged he “lobbied” Gates to omit the ancestor but did not pressure him to do so, and that the decision was entirely up to Gates. The statement also said that “we deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors.”
Leaked emails between Gates and Sony executive Michael Lynton late last week disclosed the Affleck request to omit his ancestor. Gates had sought advice from Lynton on Affleck’s appeal. Lynton disapproved of the suggestion and Gates said he agreed. But he did not include the ancestor’s story in the program.