Emancipation producer Joey McFarland may have intended to "honor" the man Will Smith portrays in his latest film, but his attempt at doing so has led him to issue a public apology.
McFarland brought the infamous "Scourged Back" photo that Emancipation is inspired by to the film's premiere, which almost immediately sparked controversy and criticism. McFarland, who brought the original photo from his own private collection, took to Instagram to apologize.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images 'Emancipation' producer Joey McFarland walks the red carpet at the film's premiere.
"I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the Emancipation premiere," McFarland wrote. "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."
However, critics on social media have called out McFarland's apology for referring to the man in the photo, named Gordon, who escaped slavery and joined the Union Army during the Civil War, as "Peter." The photo, when published in 1863, came to be known as "Whipped Peter," possibly referencing the name his enslavers gave him.
The producer was also criticized for saying he wasn't going to sell his collection, which includes the "Scourged Back" photo, until his death "for educational purposes," though in his statement, he announced plans to begin the donating process.
"Throughout the research and development of Emancipation, I discovered photographs of overlooked and historically important individuals whose stories also needed to be told," McFarland wrote. "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."
McFarland added he hoped his "actions didn't distract from the film's message, Peter's story, and just how much impact he had on the world." Star Will Smith also expressed similar hopes about his recent controversies.
"The only discomfort my heart has around that is that so many people have done spectacular work on this film," Smith told EW in an exclusive roundtable with his Emancipation costars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa. "My hope is that my team isn't penalized at all for my actions. I think [director Antoine Fuqua] and [cinematographer Robert Richardson] and Ben and Charmaine — everyone has done such spectacular work. I definitely lose a couple winks of sleep every night thinking that I could have potentially penalized my team, but I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that everyone gets seen in the light that they deserve."
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