Last week Ben Affleck learnt the hard way that the internet isn’t very good at keeping secrets. During the research for his appearance on ‘Finding Your Roots‘ (think BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘ with a much less catchy title) Affleck discovered that some of his ancestors owned slaves. He then lobbied producers of the show to remove any mention of this.
The news came to light as a result of the now infamous Sony hack; where leaked emails were made public revealing the inner workings of one of the biggest entertainment companies in America.
Ben Affleck manipulating his appearance on a show that no one asked for is newsworthy. A show succumbing to his manipulations is newsworthy, and it certainly isn’t the first time a celebrity has used their influence to keep secrets. What isn’t newsworthy however, is that Ben Affleck is related to slave owners.
Being hundreds of years removed from, and sharing DNA with people he has never met, is in no way an endorsement of the slave trade. I’m sure a number of you have an uncle, or a grandparent who buys you slippers for Christmas, always has a Werthers Original handy and also feels the area is being ‘taken over by too many bloody blacks!‘ You can’t choose your family and you shouldn’t be held accountable for their behaviour, especially if you have zero influence over them because they are…you know, dead.
Slavery wasn’t some perverse act committed behind closed doors, it was industry. An industry so large America went to war over it. Nearly a third of southern families owned slaves before the civil war so it’s only natural to assume that they didn’t stop growing once the civil war ended. Affleck went from being a punchline as part of ‘Beniffer‘ to an oscar winning director and next year will be seen as the world’s most beloved superhero so it’s natural to assume that he’d want to protect his brand, especially in a time where race is such a hot button issue.
If Affleck wants to be embarrassed about anything, it should be his appearance on the show itself. Hard hitting journalism was hardly expected, but a short preview shows it to be the fluffiest fluff piece since Beyonce’s ‘revealing’ 2013 documentary.
And while I wouldn’t blame Affleck for not doing this, it would’ve been really interesting and admirable if Affleck used the show to confront his family’s past. And then used his considerable celebrity to raise awareness of the current slavery still prevalent in many countries today. But it’s highly unlikely the Warner Bros publicity machine would be happy with the star of their biggest 2016 movie being associated with slavery in any way. So instead we get a heartfelt apology and the conversation being directed at power wielding celebrities as opposed to slavery in general.
Ben Affleck was in Gigli and in the sucky version of Daredevil, so it’s kind of cool to hate him. But his grandmother was also part of the civil rights movement and Affleck has set up the Eastern Congo Initiative, that is literally trying to rebuild one of the poorest parts of Africa. And his red faced retort to Bill Mahr and Sam Harris’s Islamophobic diatribe, shows a man nothing like his ancestors.
To focus on his relatives and not the positive actions of Affleck himself, paints a depressingly cynical picture and shows that celebrities should focus on burying their secrets deeper than trying to turn a dark part of their family history into a positive.