McFarland brought the famed 1863 photo of former slave “Whipped Peter” to the film’s premiere. Will Smith portrays Peter in the Apple Original feature, helmed by Antoine Fuqua.
More from IndieWire
“I have the photo, this is the original photograph from 1863,” McFarland told Variety on the red carpet. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”
McFarland continued, “It’s [sad] 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.”
A self-described longtime collector, McFarland added that he would eventually donate the images for “educational purposes” upon his death.
“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, it’s worth seeking out and protecting, and that’s what I sought to do,” McFarland said. “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.”
However, why McFarland collected such photographs has been questioned on Twitter.
The Black List founder Franklin Leonard wondered, “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.”
Leonard compared McFarland’s “collection” to that of trading Pokémon cards, writing, “Gotta catch ’em all” alongside screenshots of McFarland’s dedicated Instagram page to posting the images.
“Let’s assume with great generosity that you do, in fact, have the goal of protecting and enshrining these images in the American consciousness respectfully,” Leonard added. “How do you carry it in your pocket, share it like this, and then return it to your metaphorical pocket until your death?”
#OscarsSoWhite campaign creator April Reign agreed with Leonard.
“Based on @franklinleonard’s thread above, I went to IG. Imagine my disgust in finding that @JoeyMcFarland, #Emancipation producer, has branded his newly acquired photos of enslaved people as the #McFarlandCollection, & started posting right after ‘Emancipation’ wrapped filming,” Reign wrote. “Please read Franklin’s thread above. The whole thing. About comic books. And then imagine it wasn’t comic books, but historical photographs of enslaved people. That someone buys & makes into a ‘collection’ on IG. And then publicizes it right before his movie on enslavement drops.”
“Emancipation” director Fuqua previously said that he never saw the film as a “slave movie.” Instead, the movie is rooted in “sacred motivation” and the pursuit of freedom in both physical and spiritual senses. “It was a story about triumph,” the “Equalizer” director stated.
Best of IndieWire