Producer Joey McFarland issued a lengthy apology on Sunday after bringing the photo that inspired the new Will Smith film “Emancipation” to the premiere landed him in hot water.
McFarland brought the famous 1863 photo — known by the title “whipped Peter” — which showed the lash-scourged back of a slave named Peter who escaped from a Louisiana plantation and joined the Union Army after he was nearly whipped to death. McFarland explained that he had obtained the photos which had quickly circulated among abolitionists, in order to preserve a piece of history.
The producer then told reporters that he had brought it to the premiere because he wanted “a piece of Peter” to be present.
#Emancipation producer Joey McFarland brought the original "scourged back" photo from 1863 to the film's premiere: "I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight." https://t.co/PUJ13jCFiD pic.twitter.com/kDJCndFJnM
— Variety (@Variety) December 1, 2022
McFarland’s answer — in addition to the fact that he, as a white man, owned a piece of slave memorabilia — prompted a wave of backlash.
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“OR you could give it to the man’s descendants. OR you could give it to the @NMAAHC. OR be even more creative help the family use the photo to create a shared-public history Really anything other than keeping a slavery souvenir in your pocket,” broadcast host Nayerra tweeted.
“Creepy behaviour,” Kelechi added. “If this is what he has procured and brought out with him to the premiere, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the teeth and hair of enslaved people at home. Weird flex.”
McFarland issued an apology via Instagram on Sunday, saying in part, “I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the ‘Emancipation’ premiere. My intent was to honor this remarkable man and to remind the general public that this image not only brought about change in 1863 but still resonates and promotes change today.”
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“These photographs, which existed before me, will be around long after I am gone; they belong to the world,” he continued. “My goal has always been to find the right permanent home and make sure they are accessible, to honor their significance. And most importantly, that the individuals depicted in the photographs are remembered and their stories are told with the greatest dignity and respect.”