Emancipation Producer Criticized For Bringing Controversial Photo On Red Carpet

By Matthew Creith | Published

will smith emancipation
Will Smith in Emancipation

Actor Will Smith got into a lot of trouble earlier this year when he caused a scene at the Academy Awards by slapping Chris Rock in the face. The controversial move was met with swift attention thrown Smith’s way, even though he took home the coveted Best Actor prize that evening, his association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been on shaky ground ever since. Now, Smith’s new movie Emancipation is striking that controversial chord yet again, as producer Joey McFarland is getting negative attention for bringing a picture of a slave named Peter that Smith plays in the film to the red-carpet premiere.

According to a report by TooFab, Emancipation producer Joey McFarland said that he brought the 1863 picture of a slave to the premiere of the movie because he “wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” not realizing the commotion his actions would bring on social media. The photograph is known as “The Scourged Back,” and depicts a slave with his back to the camera, scarred from lashes up and down his backside. Apparently, McFarland fashions himself to be sort of an amateur historian in a lot of ways and felt that bringing the picture of Peter might spark a bit of humanity to celebrate a film that honors slaves’ struggles.

Unfortunately for the Emancipation producer, the reaction on social media has so far been swift and not as pleasant as McFarland would probably care to admit. Because the photograph is part of a larger collection that McFarland intends to donate after he dies, many Twitter users are understandably upset that a White man of means owns such a historic window into America’s greatest original sin of slavery. The Black List founder Franklin Leonard questioned in a tweet why McFarland would be a collector of slave memorabilia in the first place, further questioning what the producer intends to do with the photograph between now and the hour of his eventual death.

The Black List is a forum that surveys the most liked screenplays that have yet to be made into a motion picture film and helps to connect writers in film and television to try to get their work produced. The Twitter account for Franklin Leonard has over 176,000 followers, and many of them responded to Leonard’s comments about Emancipation producer Joey McFarland’s behavior on the red carpet of his newest film. As a result of Leonard’s tweets on the subject, some sleuths in the social media world uncovered the fact that McFarland has renamed his historical collection of photographs of slaves as the McFarland Collection, further complicating matters for the Hollywood producer.

Prior to his work with Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua on Emancipation, producer Joey McFarland worked with other high-profile actors in big-budgeted projects. He was nominated for an Academy Award for producing Best Picture nominee The Wolf of Wall Street alongside Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, and was the Executive Producer on Daddy’s Home with Will Ferrell. Emancipation tells the true story of a former slave whose photographs showing his scourged back were published internationally in 1863, which gave people the realization that slaves were being mistreated in the American South.