Joey McFarland brought the original 1863 "scourged back" photo to the film premiere: "I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight."
update at 8:05am PT 12/5/22
On Sunday, McFarland apologized from bringing "The Scourged Back" photo with him to the premiere of "Emancipation.:
"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," he wrote on Instagram.
"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," he continued. "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."
He explained that while working on the film, he "discovered photographs of overlooked and historically important individuals whose stories also needed to be told," saying one of those photographs is already on loan to the National Portrait Gallery. He added that his plan "was always to donate the photographs to the appropriate institution, in consultation with the community, and I believe there is no better time to begin that process now."
"These photographs, which existed before me, will be around long after I am gone; they belong to the world. My goal has always been to find the right permanent home and make sure they are accessible, to honor their significance," he concluded. "And most importantly, that the individuals depicted in the photographs are remembered and their stories are told with the greatest dignity and respect."
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A picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of Will Smith's upcoming "Emancipation," it can also inspire an entire film. When that picture showed up on the red carpet, though, it raised some eyebrows.
Producer Joey McFarland, who considers himself an "amateur historian and passionate curator of truth," as he told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's premiere on Wednesday, brought the original 1863 photograph to the premiere.
"So for me it was a deep dive," he said of seeking out the man's identity and story. "I hired a great deal of historians; we went deep into the archives and found his identity, we found his backstory, we pieced it together."
Smith stars as the man in the photo, Peter, who escaped slavery and was hunted through Louisiana on a journey toward freedom. The photo first appeared in "Harper's Weekly" and was taken during a Union Army medical examination.
McFarland sees "Emancipation" as more than just entertainment, but also as "a lesson." He says, "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," he continued.
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.
Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List, took to Twitter after seeing McFarland with the original photograph to ask why he would bring it there (even in a plastic case) "if the intent is to preserve it respectfully?"
"You wanted 'a piece of Peter' here?" Leonard's tweet continued. "You collect slave memorabilia that will be donated upon your death? What do you do with it in the meantime? So many questions."
In a follow-up thread, he likened it to a superhero movie producer buying up a bunch of first edition comic books of said superhero, knowing that a successful film would dramatically increase their value. TooFab has reached out to McFarland's representatives for comment.