“Emancipation” producer Joey McFarland has been criticized for bringing a photograph of the former slave known as “Whipped Peter,” whose fight for freedom and his family is chronicled in the film, to the premiere.
Will Smith plays Peter, a character inspired by the man who sat for the photograph — whose name was actually Gordon, according to America’s Black Holocaust Museum. The Apple TV+ film is directed by Antoine Fuqua from a script by William N. Collage.
McFarland shared the famed 1863 photograph known as “The Scourged Back” during an interview with Variety on the red carpet Wednesday night.
“I have the photo. This is the original photograph from 1863,” McFarland told Variety, pulling a clear container holding the historical image from his pocket. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”
“It’s [sad] to say so many artifacts and photographs have not been preserved or curated or respected. And I took it upon myself to curate and build a collection for future generations,” the producer explained, noting that his collection will be donated for “educational purposes” upon his death.
“My love of history, my love of truth, my love of larger-than-life individuals that had an impact on not just some people’s lives but the world, it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth preserving, it’s worth seeking out and protecting, and that’s what I sought to do,” McFarland continued. “It is a conversation that is needed, it needs to start and continue and keep growing and evolving. We just need to come together. We need to reckon with the past so future generations don’t make the same mistake.”
McFarland did not respond to a request for comment.
On social media, critics questioned whether bringing the Civil War-era artifact to a movie premiere was a wise move.
The Black List founder Franklin Leonard tweeted, “Why do you own the photograph? Why did you bring it to a movie premiere if the intent is to preserve it respectfully? You wanted ‘a piece of Peter’ here? You collect slave memorabilia that will be donated upon your death? What do you do with it in the meantime? So many questions.”
Leonard then compared McFarland’s “collection” to Pokémon cards, writing, “Gotta catch ’em all” alongside a screenshot of the producer’s #McFarlandCollection Instagram page.
“Let’s assume with great generosity that you do, in fact, have the goal of protecting and enshrining these images in the American consciousness respectfully,” Leonard added. “How do you carry it in your pocket, share it like this, and then return it to your metaphorical pocket until your death?”
April Reign, who created the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, noted her “disgust” of McFarland after learning that the producer has “branded his newly acquired photos of enslaved people as the #McFarlandCollection, [and] started posting right after ‘Emancipation’ wrapped filming.”
“Please read Franklin’s thread above. The whole thing. About comic books,” Reign wrote on Twitter, referring to Leonard’s tweets. “And then imagine it wasn’t comic books, but historical photographs of enslaved people. That someone buys & makes into a ‘collection’ on IG. And then publicizes it right before his movie on enslavement drops.”