A Producer From Will Smith’s New Film ‘Emancipation’ Brings Portrait Of An Enslaved Man To Its Premiere, Sparking Backlash

  • A producer on Will Smith’s movie “Emancipation” brought a portrait of an enslaved man to the premiere.
  • Joey McFarland showed the historical image that inspired the film’s plot on the red carpet.
  • He told Variety he wanted to bring a “piece” of the man to the event, which sparked a backlash online.

The producer of Will Smith’s new movie “Emancipation” has sparked a backlash after he brought a photo of an enslaved man to the film’s London premiere on Wednesday.

Talk to Variety On the red carpet, Joey McFarland showed off the historic photo and explained why he felt the need to feature it at the premiere. The publication states that the image is called “Skin Return” and it inspired the plot of the movie.

As Insider previously reported, “Emancipation” tells the story of a slave named Peter (played by Smith) who flees a plantation in Louisiana after he is nearly killed.

“This is the original photo from 1863,” McFarland told reporters as he held up the photo. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.”

According to the Metropolitan Museum, the image depicts an escaped slave named Gordon whose back was scarred after severe floggings. It was taken at a camp of Union soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi River, where the man had taken refuge after his escape.

“My love of history, my love of the truth, my love of larger-than-life individuals who have had an impact on not only some people’s lives, but the world, it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth preserving,” he said. “This is what I sought to do.”

“It’s a lesson,” McFarland added. “We need to reckon with the past.”

The producer, best known for his work on “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Papillon,” said very few artifacts and images from history have been preserved or venerated. He said he had taken it upon himself to build a collection which he intended to donate upon his death for “educational purposes”.

However, not everyone agreed with McFarland’s rationale for showing the picture.

Rebecca WigginsA producer and writer responded to Variety’s tweet to McFarland and noted that he called the individual “Peter” and not “Gordon”.

“Was he just calling the man ‘Peter’? How disrespectful and infuriating he got it out of his pocket! Gordon was called ‘Whipped Peter’ because of the dreadful scars on his back from the constant floggings he had received while in slavery”. Did he bragged about owning Gordon until he died? Wiggins wrote.

Will Smith arrives at the European premiere of a movie

Will Smith arrives at the European premiere of “Emancipation” in London on Friday.

Nikki G. Sims/Getty Images

Another Twitter user They also noted the name McFarland used for the man and said that “his servants called him ‘Peter’ because they refused to use his birth name.”

They added, “The way we fight for compassion and humanity, yet still miss the mark, is absolutely heartbreaking – and stressful.”

Cultural writer Delia Harrington McFarland’s work was also criticized. She tweeted in response to Variety that there was “no reason” for the producer to have the collection. “He does not have to wait until his death to donate it or (!) return it to his family members,” she wrote. “If he believes so much in memorizing and learning from history, he can use his money, but he doesn’t need to own the items.”

Joey McFarland did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

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