PBS Suspends Series After Ben Affleck’s Slave-Owner Snafu

After an investigation, PBS notes the actor's 'improper influence.'

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck by Jaguar PS/Shutterstock

PBS has suspended its celebrity ancestry-tracing documentary series Finding Your Roots, after it was discovered the show edited an episode to omit Ben Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor at the actor’s behest.

The series, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has run for two seasons, with its third now postponed until changes to its staff are made, the New York Times reports. PBS cited Affleck’s “improper influence” as part of producers’ violation of station standards.

Hacked Sony Entertainment emails, published by WikiLeaks in April, contained a conversation between Gates and CEO Michael Lynton, discussing a  “megastar” who wished to have his slave-owning ancestor left out of an upcoming episode. Though Gates protested, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent, the Affleck episode aired in October with no mention of the ancestor.

“I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story,” Affleck posted on Facebook in April. “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 is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.”

Gates apologized in a statement Wednesday.