Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Emancipation Producer Apologizes After Bringing Photo of 'Whipped Peter' to Movie Premiere

Starring Will Smith, the film is inspired by Peter's real-life journey from slavery into freedom and is set to premiere on AppleTV+ on Dec. 9.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Will Smith, left; Ben Foster in a still from Emancipation.
Will Smith, left; Ben Foster in a still from Emancipation.
Photo: Courtesy of AppleTV+

The long-awaited new film from Will Smith, Emancipation, is finally out in theaters. And while his commentary about the film expectedly made headlines—given his months-long hiatus post-Oscars Slapit’s the actions of the film’s producers that’s drawing ire from folks online. I’ll explain.

You see, as previously reported by The Root, Emancipation tells the story of Peter (Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom. The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as The Scourged Back, which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.

As horrific as the The Scourged Back is, the film’s producer Joey McFarland decided to bring the original picture with him to the film’s premiere last week, drawing criticism and outrage from many on Twitter.

Advertisement

“I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland said in an interview with Variety. He went on to divulge that the photo was a part of a collection of archives he’d been curating for a very long time that he intended to donate “at the end of life” for educational purposes.

Advertisement

“I need some real time to process this information,” TV/film producer and The Black List founder Franklin Leonard tweeted once McFarland’s interview began to circulate. “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.”

Advertisement

After posting that, Leonard and media strategist and DEI advocate April Reign uncovered more slave archive photos allegedly posted by McFarland once filming for Emancipation wrapped dubbed “The McFarland Collection” on Instagram. All photos under the collection had reportedly been removed from Instagram on Saturday.

Advertisement

In an attempt to assuage the rightful outrage, McFarland posted a lengthy apology statement to Instagram on Sunday—which notably had the comment section turned off of it.

Advertisement

“I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the ‘Emancipation’ premiere,” the statement began. “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.”

It continued:

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.

Throughout the research and development of Emancipation, I discovered photographs of overlooked and historically important individuals whose stories also needed to be told. One photograph, of Martin Delaney, is on loan to the National Portrait Gallery and currently on exhibit. My 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 than 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. And most importantly, that the individuals depicted in the photographs are remembered and their stories are told with the greatest dignity and respect."

Advertisement

Emancipation is in theaters now and is expected to premiere on AppleTV+ on Dec. 9.