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‘Emancipation’ Producer Joey McFarland Accused of ‘Walking Around Like He’s Trading a Pokémon Card’ with Photo of ‘Whipped Peter’ at the Film’s L.A. Premiere, Offers Apology

Hollywood producer Joey McFarland has issued a public apology after scores of people took offense to his attempt to acknowledge the enslaved man who inspired his latest film, “Emancipation.”

“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,” he wrote in the apology posted to his Instagram account on Dec. 4. Steering clear of more direct criticism, he also disabled comments for all 719 of his posts and deleted several other centuries-old photographs of enslaved people dubbed the #McFarlandCollection.

McFarland and the movie’s stars — Will Smith, Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa, director Antoine Fuqua, and others — appeared at the red carpet premiere on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. As he spoke with the media, McFarland had in tow with him what he claimed was the original 1863 “Scourged Back” photograph of “Whipped Peter,” although many thousands were sold in the years immediately after the original negatives were made. “I wanted it to be here. I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” he told Variety.

He continued, “Sadly to say, so many artifacts and photographs have not been preserved, curated, or respected, and I took it upon myself to curate and build a collection for future generations—I’ve been collecting for a very long time. My collection will be donated at the end of my life for educational purposes.” In a way, McFarland said that “Emancipation” serves as an archived account of a “larger than life” figure, “Whipped Peter,” whose life helped to change the world, and for that, his story is worth telling.

In his apology, the “Wolf of Wall Street” producer noted that he has since begun the process of donating his personal collection of artifacts. “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,” he wrote.

Neither Smith, Fuqua, or anyone else associated with the project has spoken out to address the outrage surrounding McFarland. But the entire ordeal has been the talk of social media. “I just don’t understand. If this is the original photo as he said, not only should it be in a museum like the@NMAAHC, but it shouldn’t be subjected to the body heat, light, and even air that folks are breathing on it,” wrote April Reign, the cultural consultant who started the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015.

“I hope you understand just how ghoulish it is to “own a piece” of whipped Peter,” wrote Valerie Complex, the associate editor at Deadline.

The film’s star has, however, shared his feelings about how that infamous Oscars slap may impact “Emancipation’s” success. “The only discomfort my heart has around that is that so many people have done spectacular work on this film. My hope is that my team isn’t penalized at all for my actions,” Smith, 54, said in a recent interview.

It is a sentiment that McFarland now shares. “I hope my actions don’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story, and just how much impact he had on the world,” he wrote. The film’s director, Fuqua, previously questioned, “Isn’t 400 years of slavery, of brutality, more important than one bad moment?” when discussing Apple’s decision to move forward with the movie’s release.

Well, now, it seems the public will decide if “Emancipation” can withstand two separate and unrelated incidents that have bungled its rollout. It begins streaming on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.

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