‘Emancipation’ Producer Joey McFarland Apologizes for Bringing Photo of Enslaved Man to Premiere

Emancipation” producer Joey McFarland has apologized after facing criticism for bringing a photograph of the enslaved man known as “Whipped Peter,” which served as an inspiration for the film, to the Los Angeles premiere.

“I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the ‘Emancipation’ premiere,” McFarland wrote in a statement on his Instagram posted Sunday afternoon. “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.”

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McFarland was met with widespread criticism after revealing that he was carrying the original 1863 photograph of “Whipped Peter,” whose real name was Gordon, while speaking with Variety at the film’s premiere. Photographed when being fit for a uniform to join the Union army, the image of the scars on Gordon’s back were widely circulated at the time, exposing the brutality of slavery to the U.S. population.

“I have the photo. This is the original photograph from 1863. I wanted it to be here tonight. I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland said Wednesday at the premiere. “Sadly to say, so many artifacts and photographs have not been preserved or curated or respected. And I took it upon myself to curate and build a collection for future generations.”

“Emancipation” is based on Gordon’s escape from slavery. Starring Will Smith and directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film is currently playing in select theaters and will make a streaming debut on Apple TV+ on Friday.

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

Read McFarland’s statement below.

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