It just keeps getting worse for Affleck
The Streisand Effect just keeps getting worse for poor Ben Affleck.
By attempting to suppress public knowledge of a slave-owning ancestor, the Hollywood actor has made a lot of people very interested in that fact. And now the network that aired a program on Affleck's family lineage, which omitted details about the relative who kept slaves in the American South, is conducting an internal review.
Last week, it was revealed the Batman vs Superman star successfully lobbied the producers of the PBS genealogy-based TV series, Finding Your Roots, to remove those family details. But his request was exposed when WikiLeaks released a tranche of hacked emails from film and TV producer Sony Pictures.
The actor has since expressed regret for asking to have the information omitted from the episode that aired last October. Affleck posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday night that he was "embarrassed" to have a show about his family "include a guy who owned slaves", but said "we deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors".
The producers of the series have defended their decision as an "independent editorial judgment".
But the hacked emails show serious concern on behalf of host Henry Louis Gates jnr.
"We've never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found," Gates asked US Sony CEO Michael Lynton. "He's a megastar. What do we do?
"To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman."
When Lynton suggested he "take it out if no one knows", Gates warned of the risks if they were discovered: "It would embarrass him [Affleck] and compromise our integrity."
A few days after the widely-reported revelations, the story shows no sign of disappearing. PBS and New York's WNET public station have announced a review into the affair "to gather the facts and determine whether or not all of PBS's editorial standards were observed".
If it is found that pressure from Affleck resulted in the slave details being cut, that would be "and is unacceptable", according to Stephen Segaller, WNET's vice president of programming.
In a statement to PBS's ombudsman, Gates appeared to express a view different to those in his emails. Instead of indicating concern about violating PBS's rules, he defended the way the program was cut.
"In the case of Mr Affleck, we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry," he said, listing a relative from the Revolutionary War and another who marched for Civil Rights as examples.
Unfortunately for Affleck, fellow actor Bill Paxton has just appeared on family tree series Who Do You Think You Are – where he learned that a relation of his also owned slaves.
Paxton, star of the acclaimed HBO drama Big Love, did not shy away from the revelation.
"It's kind of disappointing from a contemporary persecutive," he said. "We read this great account of this man. But your history – good and bad – is your history.
"We have a tendency to want to hide the bad parts of our history, but we have to shine a light on all of it in order to understand who we are."
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams argued that by agreeing to be part of a genealogy documentary, Affleck must accept whatever the program uncovers.
"We can't look to the past on the assumption our family tree is full of nothing but good apples, or flee when we find things that make us uncomfortable," she wrote.
"We look at our families to see connection to the past, to understand that we are part of it.
"Our family members were not all brilliant and noble. They fought on losing sides. They drank too much. They suffered mental illness. They died in childbirth. And yet we are here.
"We endure. We have family members of different races and religions and political beliefs, do-gooders and rogues, scattered across the world, and we are part of each other, connected. That is amazing"
Discussing the topic on The View, Whoopi Goldberg said she had no problem with Affleck asking the producers to cut certain details.
"I think you should be able to say, 'You know what? This is my family and nobody in the family is comfortable with this right now," Goldberg said.
But The Talk's Sharon Osbourne disagreed: "He's a magnificent man, but hey, your ancestor was a slave owner. Live with it."
- with AP