Joey McFarland brought the original 1863 “scourged back” photo to the film premiere: “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”
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.