WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hollywood megastar Ben Affleck, known for his support of liberal causes, asked documentary makers to censor their discovery that one of his ancestors owned slaves, according to a leaked email.
The message published by WikiLeaks last week is part of a trove of embarrassing emails, film scripts and other internal communications that were accessed during a massive hack of Sony in 2014.
In one email exchange, Sony chief executive Michael Lynton and his friend Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates discuss a request made by Affleck that his slave-owning ancestor not be included in an upcoming show called Finding Your Roots, produced by the publicly funded PBS broadcaster.
"Here's my dilemma," Gates wrote. "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?"
In his response, Lynton advises Gates, who presents the series, to take out the information.
"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," he wrote.
Gates goes on to say that he fears censoring the show would "compromise our integrity". Ultimately, though, the show did not mention Affleck's slave-owning forebear and instead focused on the star's other ancestors including a great-grandfather who was an occult enthusiast.
Gates "and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative", PBS said in a statement.
CNN presenter Anderson Cooper is also featured in the documentary series. One of his ancestors was a multiple slave owner - and was beaten to death with a garden hoe by a slave, who in turn was hanged without trial.
Affleck stars as Batman in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. He is also known for supporting an array of causes including the Eastern Congo Initiative.
The Sony hacking scandal has already led to the release of other embarrassing emails, including one in which a producer labelled Angelina Jolie a "minimally talented spoiled brat".