Joey McFarland, a producer of Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation,” apparently didn’t think about the consequences of showing the original 1863 photograph of an enslaved man with his “scourged back” at the film’s LA premiere Wednesday.
It gets worse: McFarland proudly discussed the historic photo of the man – whose story inspired “Emancipation” – with a red carpet reporter diversity.
Although Will Smith portrays “Peter” in the film, the man’s first name was Gordon, according to Frank H. Goodyear III, a former associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.
Gordon ran away from the plantation where he was enslaved while recovering from a horrific beating, Goodyear wrote for America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. The photo was taken as he was fitted with a uniform after walking 80 miles to join the Union Army in Baton Rouge, La.
“This is the original photo from 1863, and I wanted it to be here tonight — I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland told Variety’s reporter in a video released Wednesday night. “Unfortunately, so many artifacts and photographs have not been preserved, curated, or respected. And I’ve made it my mission to curate and build a collection for future generations.”
McFarland, who is white, said he has been collecting for a “very long time” and intends to donate his photo collection to education when he dies.
“For me, it’s worth fighting for my love of history, my love of truth, my love of larger-than-life individuals who have impacted not just some people’s lives but the whole world,” he added. “It’s worth preserving. They are worth seeking out and protecting. I tried that. And the story that came out of it goes beyond entertainment, it goes beyond cinema. It’s a lesson, it’s a conversation that needs to start and continue and keep growing and evolving.”
McFarland, who also produced “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Daddy’s Home,” said it’s important “to reckon with the past” so that future generations don’t repeat the same mistakes. His Instagram account features a series of photos from what he calls the #McFarlandCollection.
“I’m really excited to discover and acquire these incredibly rare and important Civil War era (1860s) photographs,” McFarland wrote on Nov. 22 in an Instagram post that showed two enslaved children. “Please note that my collection is for historical preservation, education and storytelling.”
Some commenters praised his efforts – “This is wild. Glad you understand the meaning of them” – while others didn’t buy his motif.
“This is such a blatant example of a white savior complex. Who are you that you think YOU are the best person to protect this piece of black history?” wrote another user. “And you going around showing them like baseball cards is even more problematic. That’s not it.”
McFarland did not immediately respond to The Times request for comment Thursday.
On Twitter, commenters focused on McFarland’s mistakes – the most important of which was getting this photo into a movie premiere and even owning the thing.
Franklin Leonard, a producer and founder of the respected Black List of Best Unproduced Screenplays, tweeted that he needed some “real time” to process what he was watching.
“Why is this photo yours?” he tweeted Thursday. “Why did you bring it to a film premiere when the intent is to preserve it respectfully? You wanted ‘a piece of Peter’ here? You collect slave memorabilia that will be donated after your death? What are you doing with it in the meantime? So many questions.
“Dunno man, but putting ‘a piece of Peter’ that you ‘own’ on the red carpet of a personally enriching movie so you can collect more slave memorabilia to keep until you die will.” Leonard continued in more tweets. “When do I get my own anger translator…”
A user, @BellanMelissa, tweeted: “What a colossally inappropriate thing on any level. He shouldn’t own it. Shouldn’t use the wrong name for it. And definitely shouldn’t make it show and tell.
“His name was Gordon. His slave owners called him “Peter” because they refused to use his birth name. The way we strive for empathy and humanity but still fall short of the mark is so grossly heartbreaking — and exhausting,” a Twitter user said @talk2spirit wrote.
And user @erockjamz wrote“I don’t understand why (for ytppl) trying to humanize already dispossessed black people has to involve reliving their deepest, hardest moments. Carrying a ‘piece of someone’, even if it’s just a personal reminder of you, TO A MOVIE PREMIERE is just gross. no break! even in death.”
Whether McFarland owns the actual “original” photo is also up for debate.
The team of photographers who took the picture “produced and sold copies of Gordon’s portrait in the small and popular format of the time, known as carte-de-visite,” Goodyear, the former curator of the National Portrait Gallery, wrote for ABHM. “The image elicited an immediate response, as copies were distributed quickly and widely.” Commercial photographers in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and London eventually made copies as well.
“Recognized as a stark indictment of slavery, Gordon’s portrait has been presented as the latest piece of evidence in the abolitionist campaign,” Goodyear wrote. The image was reproduced along with two others by Gordon in the July 4, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly.
Although there are a few stories of Gordon’s military service, the records are incomplete, Goodyear wrote. “There is no further record of what became of Gordon. Yet this famous image of him lives on as a searing testament to the brutality of slavery and the fortitude shown by so many African Americans during that time.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-12-01/emancipation-premiere-enslaved-photo-joey-mcfarland ‘Emancipation’ producer slammed for photo of enslaved man