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Ben Affleck Original Interview on Ancestor Slave Master Hits Web

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Oscar-winning actor Ben Affleck has been all over the news for his attempt to cover up findings his ancestors owned slaves.

In a PBS Finding Your Roots episode hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Affleck discovered interesting histories about three of his biological ancestors and one he wasn’t so proud of—his slave-owning, great-grandfather (times three) Benjamin Cole.

Apparently, Cole owned 25 slaves on a Savannah, GA plantation and owning that amount of Black bodies made him among the South’s elite. Clearly Affleck wasn’t impressed and beyond embarrassed. So much so that, as it’s been widely reported, he expressed desire several times for the segment to get deleted from the final cut altogether.

Skip Gates, agreed to make the edit, but not without his knowledge of the risks. To edit or remove content from the show on PSB, a known documentary channel, at the request of a guest is a violation of the network’s editorial standards.

But now copies of the full script hit Gawker detailing the point Affleck discovers his family owned slaves:

AT THE SAME TIME THAT ALMON WAS TRYING TO OFFER THE BEREAVED SOLACE… ANOTHER OF BEN’S ANCESTORS WAS LIVING 800 MILES DUE SOUTH. WE LEARNED THAT HIS LIFE HAD ALSO BEEN FUNDAMENTALLY AFFECTED BY THE CIVIL WAR—BUT FOR VERY DIFFERENT REASONS.

THIS MAN WAS BEN’S THIRD GREAT GRANDFATHER, BENJAMIN COLE, AND HE WAS LIVING IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA AT THE TIME.

COLE WAS ONE OF SAVANNAH’S MOST PROMINENT CITIZENS—A WEATLHY LAND OWNER AND THE SHERIFF OF THE ENTIRE COUNTY.

AFFLECK: That’s amazing. I got a…we have a house in Savannah.

GATES: Really?

AFFLECK: Yeah.

GATES: Did it ever occur to you that you had deep roots there?

AFFLECK: No, it didn’t. It didn’t at all. I had no idea I had any southern roots at all, so this is remarkable.

COLE OWNED A LARGE FARM IN GEORGIA AT A TIME WHEN SLAVE LABOR HAD MADE THE STATE THE CENTER OF THE SOUTH’S COTTON KINGDOM.

WE WANTED TO SEE IF WE COULD LEARN HOW BEN’S ANCESTOR FELT ABOUT THIS PECULIAR INSTITUTION.

AND FOR THAT, WE STARTED WITH THE 1850 CENSUS.

GATES: This is the slave schedule of the 1850 Census. In 1850, they would list the owner of slaves in a separate Census.

AFFLECK: There’s Benjamin Cole, owned 25 slaves.

GATES: Your third great-grandfather owned 25 slaves. He was a slave owner.

THESE HOLDINGS PUT BENJAMIN COLE AMONG THE SOUTHERN ELITE.

ONLY ABOUT 10% OF ALL SLAVE HOLDERS OWNED 20 SLAVES OR MORE.

AFFLECK: God. It gives me kind of a sagging feeling to see, uh, a biological relationship to that. But, you know, there it is, part of our history.

GATES: But consider the irony, uh, in your family line. Your mom went back fighting for the rights of black people in Mississippi, 100 years later. That’s amazing.

AFFLECK: That’s pretty cool.

GATES: That’s pretty cool.

AFFLECK: Yeah, it is. One of the things that’s interesting about it is like we tend to separate ourselves from these things by going like, you know, oh, well, it’s just dry history, and it’s all over now, and this shows us that there’s still a living aspect to history, like a personal connection.

By the same token, I think it’s important to recognize that, um, in looking at these histories, how much work has been done by people in this country, of all kinds, to make it a better place.

GATES: People like your mother.

AFFLECK: Indeed, people like my mother and many others who have made a much better America than the one that they were handed.

Two different versions of the voice-over introduction shows an omission of slaver ownership was made.

Voice-over introduction from June script:

IN THIS EPISODE, WE PIECE TOGETHER THE LOST FAMILY HISTORIES OF ACTOR BEN AFFLECK, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST BEN JEALOUS, AND ACTOR KHANDI ALEXANDER.

THEIR ROOTS HIGHLIGHT A UNIQUELY AMERICAN PARADOX: EACH DESCENDS FROM A PATRIOT WHO FOUGHT FOR OUR NATION’S INDEPENDENCE—BUT EACH ALSO DESCENDS FROM AN ANCESTOR WHO OWNED SLAVES.

Voice-over introduction in August:

GATES VO: IN THIS EPISODE, WE PIECE TOGETHER THE LOST FAMILY HISTORIES OF ACTOR BEN AFFLECK, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST BEN JEALOUS, AND ACTOR KHANDI ALEXANDER.

THEIR ROOTS LEAD TO ANCESTORS WHOSE LIVES WERE SHAPED BY THE TWO DEFINING WARS IN OUR NATIONS HISTORY. THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND THE CIVIL WAR.

Skip told PBS’s ombudsman he made the editorial decision mostly because he “found the material lacking.” We don’t buy it, homie. Young Massa’ Aflleck asked you to do something and you did it!

Gates even went as far to ask Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton for his advice on a guest who “has asked us to edit something about one of his ancestors,” openly admitting editing the piece would be a “violation of PBS rules.” In a July 22, 2014 email thread leaked during the notorious Sony Hack and now available on Wikileaks, Gates explains the Affleck dilemma:

>>>>>>> On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:01 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote: >>>>>>> >>>>>>> As long as you stay on the board, you are free to say this is crazy! I hardly know Harvey; you are my friend. I really would be devastated if you left. By the way, I need your advice: I’m on a flight to L.A. for the TCA Press Tour. We launch season two of Finding Your Roots tomorrow at noon, and four celebrities, including Nas, are showing up. Here’s my dilemma: confidentially, 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. 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?

On Jul 22, 2014, at 12:09 PM, “Lynton, Michael” <Michael_Lynton@spe.sony.com> wrote:

Of course I will stay on the board if you want me to. On the doc the big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out. 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.

 On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:11 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

Good; relieved. As for the doc: all my producers would know; his PR agency the same as mine, and everyone there has been involved trying to resolve this; my agent at CAA knows. And PBS would know. To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 11:28 AM, “Lynton, Michael” <Michael_Lynton@spe.sony.com> wrote

then it is tricky because it may get out that you made the change and it comes down to editorial integrity.

We can talk when you land.

 On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:30 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

 Will call. It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity. I think he is getting very bad advice. I’ve offered to fly to Detroit, where he is filming, to talk it through.

 On Jul 22, 2014, at 12:28 PM, “Lynton, Michael” <Michael_Lynton@spe.sony.com> wrote: yeah,, the past is the past…..

And he wasn’t even a bad guy. We don’t demonize him at all.

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.

Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.

Whoop, there it is, Skippy! The Sony hack is the gift that keeps giving.

Brittney Chase

Brittney Chase

Brittney L. A. Chase is a Daily Editor of Jawbreaker. She's also a fierce homemaker, fab wife of four years to Brandon and the rock-mommy of one-year-old B.J.

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