Movie star Affleck wanted TV to hide ancestor was slave owner

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Hollywood star Ben Affleck asked for a US documentary series to not reveal he had a slave-owning ancestor, according to leaked emails.

Whistleblower site WikiLeaks published the information, which came from when Sony Pictures was hacked last year.

The information never appeared on the programme Finding Your Roots, but both TV station PBS and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, host of the show that traces the ancestry of well-known guests, said that they did not censor the slave-owner details.

Instead, more interesting ancestors of the actor emerged and Gates chose to highlight them in October’s segment featuring Affleck, they claimed in statements posted on the PBS website.

He said discovering slave-owning ancestors was very common in the series, and noted Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper were two guests with slave-owner relatives.

In Affleck’s case, “we decided to go with the story we used about his fascinating ancestor who became on occultist following the Civil War,” he said.

The email chain between Gates and Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton was part of a trove of hundreds of thousands of emails and documents from last year’s Sony hack that WikiLeaks put into a searchable online archive.

In their email exchange, Gates asks for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request.

“Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” Gates wrote on July 22, 2014.

Mr Lynton replies: “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.”