Oscar-nominated producer, Joey McFarland, is being criticized for a recent “Emancipation” red carpet appearance where he carried around the original 1863 photograph that inspired the film- one that captured a man’s scarred back after escaping enslavement.
The man in the photo is known as Peter, who is portrayed by Will Smith in the upcoming action-thriller.
During the Los Angeles film premiere on Wednesday, McFarland told reporters that, due to his “love of history,” he curates and owns a collection of photographs capturing African Americans from the 19th century.
“They’ve been so poorly curated, preserved and protected. And so for the last couple of decades I have been seeking out and acquiring as many forgotten and lost photos as possible,” the film producer told The Hollywood Reporter.
He shared that the inspiring photograph, known as The Scourged Back, is the one (of many) that had the greatest impact on him.
In videos circulating on the internet, McFarland explains that he brought the photo to the premiere so that “a piece of Peter” could be with him. Online critics quickly questioned why the producer would keep these Civil War-era artifacts in his personal collection instead of them being in a museum.
Franklin Leonard, who founded The Black List, took to Twitter to share a lengthy thread questioning whether or not McFarland was just talking up his collection in order to raise the value of it since the producer noted that the photos would be donated upon his death.
“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 tweeted.
Meanwhile, April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite, pointed out with “disgust” that McFarland had previously began to brand his collection on Instagram as #McFarlandCollection as soon as “Emancipation” wrapped.
Elsewhere, McFarland told THR that “so many people look at [the photo of Peter] and use it as an emblem of slavery,” but he was really a “human being.” He explained that the photograph served as a “deep dive” as he wondered, “What is his story? Who are his family? What happened to him?”
“I hired a great deal of historians; we went deep into the archives and found his identity, we found his backstory, we pieced it together,” he shared.
McFarland, who, during the event, described himself as a “filmmaker, writer, amateur historian and passionate curator of truth,” continued to explain how he sees Peter, along with the other subjects in his collected images, as heroes and warriors rather than victims.
“We don’t need to ignore or hide or cover up the past. We need to protect it. We need to protect those scars, those wounds; we need to have them on full display so we don’t make the same mistakes again,” he said. “We need to curate the stories, the photographs, the history before it’s lost forever. That’s part of my mission.”
This isn’t the first time that McFarland has generated headlines. In the past, he was entangled in the 1MDB embezzlement scandal, in which “billions were siphoned from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund by Malaysian businessman Jho Low,” as per THR, including McFarland who was befriended by Low to launch Red Granite Productions with Riza Aziz and produce “The Wolf of Wall Street”. The film was financed by Low’s stolen millions.