On the Affleck-Gates Controversy

I can’t really blame Ben Affleck for being embarrassed by his slave-owning ancestor and not wanting him to be revealed to the world on Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr’s PBS series “Finding Your Roots”-we all want to think the best of our families and to project that best possible image to the rest of the world, and projecting your and your family’s best image becomes even more complicated if you gain a great deal of fame, like Ben has. According to Ben, Dr. Gates couldn’t find many details on the man and thus chose to omit him from the program even before Ben asked him to, choosing instead to cover him in a book later, when more information becomes available (which Ben agreed to), and I can understand this too. I can also understand how, from a production/editorial standpoint, exposing the dark side of a popular actor’s past could open up several cans of worms.

However, I feel that PBS, as a source of prestige and educational programming, has a responsibility to provide the most accurate information possible in its programs, especially its educational ones. If Dr. Gates didn’t want to feature the small amount of data he had on Ben’s ancestor, that’s his right, but PBS should have at least required him to put a disclaimer to the effect of “We found an ancestor of Ben Affleck’s who is believed to have owned slaves, but the data is incomplete at this time. We will elaborate on this ancestor later, when more information becomes available.” on the end of the program, before the credits rolled.


One thought on “On the Affleck-Gates Controversy

  1. I don’t think PBS had a duty to see that that information was disclosed. I think Dr. Gates and Mr. Affleck should have mentioned it. Not mentioning it is bigger than the historical “event.” I don’t think less of Ben Affleck because an ancestor of his owned slaves. Slavery happened. People owned slaves; people were “owned.” Not a shining time in our history, but covering it up, well, that seems slimy. With the Internet, etc., the news was bound to leak. Now that it has leaked, the cover attempt looks pathetic.

    But am I angered or upset? No. That merits a pause to roll my eyes, sigh briefly, and move on. Other problems are far more pressing. Police-custody deaths of Black men, present racism, violence among all people – those are far weightier problems.


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