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“I wholeheartedly apologize to everyone I have offended by bringing a photograph of Peter to the Emancipation premiere,” the Oscar-nominated producer said in an Instagram post Sunday. “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.”
The photograph shows a man named Peter, who escaped enslavement, with scars on his back from being repeatedly whipped. The photo has been known both as “Whipped Peter” and “The Scourged Back.”
“After uncovering Peter’s origin story with help from diligent historians, I spent the last few years working with the Emancipation creative team in order to bring his story to life so worldwide audiences would have an opportunity to appreciate his heroism. 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,” McFarland went on to say in the post.
“Throughout the research and development of Emancipation, I discovered photographs of overlooked and historically important individuals whose stories also needed to be told. One photograph, of Martin Delaney, is on loan to the National Portrait Gallery and is 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.”
The Emancipation producer ended his statement, saying, “These photographs, which existed before me, will be around long after I am gone; they belong to the world. My goal has always been to find the right permanent home and make sure they are accessible, to honor their significance. And most importantly, that the individuals depicted in the photographs are remembered and their stories are told with the greatest dignity and respect.”
McFarland faced heavy criticism online following his appearance on the Nov. 30 premiere carpet from members of the entertainment industry, including #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign and The Black List founder Franklin Leonard. Both expressed distress and “disgust” over the producer’s decision to show off the photo, which the producer said in a video posted online that he brought so “a piece of Peter” would be with him.
Leonard questioned the producer’s very interest in and reasoning behind collecting artifacts related to enslaved Black Americans. “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,” he tweeted at the time.
McFarland told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet ahead of the film’s Los Angeles premiere that photos like Peter’s have “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.”
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