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'Emancipation' Producer Apologizes For Bringing Photo Of Enslaved Man To Premiere After Backlash

Joey McFarland issued an apology on Instagram after bringing a photo of an enslaved man known as 'Whipped Peter' who inspired the film to its premiere.

Joey McFarland and Will Smith in "Emancipation."
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Unbridled Eve; Apple TV/YouTube

Producer Joey McFarland has issued an apology after receiving considerable backlash for bringing a photograph of an enslaved man to the premiere of his film Emancipation.

As reported by Variety,McFarland proudly took out and displayed the photograph of a former slave nicknamed "Whipped Peter."

The man's name was actually Gordon according to America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

After being asked how he came to own the photo, McFarland declared he was holding the "original photograph from 1863" and he brought it with him because he "wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight."

The photograph, in which Gordon posed without a shirt displaying the numerous scars on his back from being whipped multiple times, inspired the film. This year's controversial Academy Award winner for Best Actor Will Smith plays Peter, a man who tirelessly fights for freedom.

McFarland added he was disappointed in the lack of photographs similar to the one of Gordon.

So the producer decided to begin collecting photos of slavery.

"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.”
"The story that came out of that, it transcends cinema."
"It is a lesson."
“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 noted his collection of slavery photos would be donated for "educational purposes" after his death.

McFarland's decision to bring the photograph with him to the premiere was met with concern and anger.

Franklin Leonard, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and founder of The Black List was particularly puzzled by McFarland's decision to bring the photograph to the premiere, not to mention the fact he owns it in the first place.

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 later shared a screenshot from McFarland's Instagram page, comparing his collection of slavery photographs to collecting Pokémon cards, saying "Gotta catch 'em all".

April Reign—founder of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign—was equally horrified by McFarland's actions.

Reign was "disgusted" by McFarland's collection of photographs and his decision to bring a delicate piece of history to a place it could easily be damaged.

Many others joined Leonard and Reign in expressing their anger towards McFarland on Twitter.

Following the considerable backlash, McFarland took to Instagram to issue a justification and apology.

McFarland began by explaining his intentions for bringing the photograph to the premiere.

"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 his image not only brought about change in 1863 but still resonates and promotes change today."
“After uncovering Peter’s origin story with help from diligent historians, I spent the last few years working with the 'Emancipation' creative team in order to bring his story to life so worldwide audiences would have an opportunity to appreciate his heroism."
"I hope my actions don’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world.”

McFarland went on to explain he came into possession of these photographs during the research and development of Emancipation.

He claimed his intent was always to donate them to the "appropriate institution[s], in consultation with the community" as they "belong to the world."

While he said they would be donated for "educational purposes" after his death on the red carpet, he emphasized in the post "there is no better time to begin the process than now."

McFarland disabled comments on his post, but that didn't stop Twitter users, including Leonard and Reign, from expressing their thoughts on his apology.

Just about everyone found McFarland's apology hollow.

Many felt he didn't learn anything. Others pointed out he still incorrectly referred to Gordon as "Peter" in his post.

McFarland has since deleted the photo of his collection from his Instagram page.

Currently playing in theaters, Emancipation will be available to stream on Apple TV+ beginning on December 9.