‘Emancipation’ producer apologizes for bringing photo of enslaved man to red carpet event

Joey McFarland said at Friday's premiere of the image he pulled from his pocket: "I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight."

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The renowned producer of the new Will Smith movie, “Emancipation,” has expressed regret for bringing a picture of an enslaved man to its recent red carpet event in London.

According to Insider, Joey McFarland pulled from his pocket a historical illustration that is known as “The Scourged Back,” the photo that served as the inspiration for “Emancipation’s” plot, during the movie’s London premiere Friday. He explained then why he felt compelled to bring it.

“This is the original photograph from 1863,” McFarland said of the image, according to Insider. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”

“Emancipation” producer Joey McFarland attends the 9th Annual Unbridled Eve Kentucky Derby Gala at The Galt House Hotel in May in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The photo is of an escaped enslaved man named Gordon, formerly identified as Peter, per the National Portrait Gallery, whose back is reportedly seen bearing vivid scars from violent beating. The image comes from a Union military camp along the Mississippi River, where he had sought safety after escaping.

The main character of “Emancipation,” who Smith portrays in the Antoine Fuqua-directed film, is a slave named Peter who escapes a Louisiana plantation after nearly being killed.

McFarland reportedly also told media Wednesday that the image is a lesson and that we must reckon with the past while explaining it.

“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,” McFarland said, Insider reported. “That’s what I sought to do.”

The producer, who earned a 2014 Academy Award nomination for his work on “The Wolf of Wall Street,” also said not enough historical relics and images were conserved or treated with care. For “educational purposes,” McFarland claimed, he’s taken it upon himself to amass a collection he intends to give away after his passing.

But not everyone endorsed McFarland’s expressed justification for showing the picture. Producer and writer Rebecca Wiggins noted on Twitter that McFarland had referred to the person as “Peter” rather than “Gordon.”

“Did he just call the man ‘Peter?’ how disrespectful and cringy that he pulled it out his pocket!” Wiggins wrote. “Gordon ‘was given the name ‘Whipped Peter’ for the horrific scars on his back due to constant whipping he received during his slavery.’ did he brag about owning Gordon til he dies?”

Another Twitter user who observed the name McFarland gave the photo’s subject claimed his “enslavers called him Peter’ because they refused to use his birth name.” They called it “grossly heartbreaking” and exhausting how “we strive for empathy & humanity,” yet still fall short.

On Sunday, McFarland issued a statement on Instagram in which he expressed his wholehearted apologies to anyone he may have upset by his choice to display the image at 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,” McFarland wrote.

“I hope my actions don’t distract,” he added, “from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world.”

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