Affleck was featured late last year in the PBS television program “Finding Your Roots” a nationally broadcast show that profiles the family histories of well-known Americans.
The Oscar-winning actor-director — known as an ardent supporter of liberal causes — was dismayed to learn that in addition to a forebear who was a Revolutionary War hero, he also had a long-ago relative who was a slavemaster.
“After an exhaustive search of my ancestry for ‘Finding Your Roots,’ it was discovered that one of my distant relatives was an owner of slaves,” Affleck wrote in a Facebook message posted late Tuesday.
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said.
“I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story,” Affleck wrote.
He added that he has learned an important lesson about trying to cover up one’s past.
“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,” he said.
New York’s WNET television station, which carries the program, said it had launched a review along with PBS into editorial policies after agreeing to Affleck’s demand to drop the slavemaster mention.
“In order to gather the facts to determine whether or not all of PBS’ editorial standards were observed, on Saturday, April 18, we began an internal review,” WNET and PBS said in a statement to AFP.
“We have been moving forward deliberately yet swiftly to conduct this review.”
The revelations that Affleck had lobbied PBS to edit out the slave-owner relative in his ancestry was first revealed in emails leaked by WikiLeaks earlier this month.
The message published by WikiLeaks was part of a trove of embarrassing emails, film scripts and other internal communications that were accessed during a massive hack of Sony in 2014.
The host of “Finding Your Roots,” Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, discussed with a third party the “dilemma” of having been asked to edit out Affleck’s slavemaster ancestor.
The program has profiled the histories of “four or five of our guests this season (who) descend from slave owners,” he wrote in one of the leaked emails.
“We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”