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Edward Norton says it is ‘uncomfortable’ to discover his ancestors were slave owners

‘It’s not a judgement on your and your own life but it’s a judgement on the history of this country,’ says Norton

Annabel Nugent
Monday 02 January 2023 16:14 GMT
Norton on his Bourne character

Edward Norton has said it was “uncomfortable” to discover that his ancestors owned slaves.

The Glass Onion star is a guest on the PBS show Finding Your Roots, a series which sees a celebrity explore their family tree.

Other celebrities due to participate in this season of the show include Claire Danes, Brian Cox, Viola Davis, and Cyndi Lauper.

In a preview clip of the episode shown to Newsweek, Norton, 53, is seen reacting to news that his ancestors owned a family of enslaved people, which included five young girls.

In the video, the actor is shown a photo of a 55-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman, and five girls, aged, four, six, eight, nine, and 10.

Host Henry Louis Gates Jr then informs Norton that the family was owned as slaves, asking the actor: “What’s it like to see that?”

He answers: “The short answer is, these things are uncomfortable, and you should be uncomfortable with them. Everybody should be uncomfortable with it.

“It’s not a judgement on your and your own life but it’s a judgement on the history of this country. It needs to be acknowledged first and foremost, and then it needs to be contended with.”

Edward Norton (AFP/Getty Images)

Norton continued: “When you go away from census counts and you personalise things, you’re talking about, possibly, a husband and wife with five girls – and these girls are slaves. Born into slavery.”

Gates Jr responded: “Born into slavery and in slavery in perpetuity.”

“Yeah,” Norton said. “Again, when you read ‘slave aged eight,’ you just want to die.”

It is unclear when the picture was taken. According to the publication, Norton is a descendant of the wealthy Rouse family.

His grandfather, James Rouse, was a businessman and founder of The Rouse Company, a now-defunct shopping mall developer. Norton’s great-grandfather was a Maryland-based attorney and businessman named William Goldsmith Rouse.

Other members of his family were also wealthy real estate developers.

Elsewhere in the episode, Julia Roberts will also be exploring her family tree.

The first episode of Finding Your Roots season nine, featuring Norton and Roberts, premieres on Tuesday (3 January) 2023 at 8pm ET on PBS.

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