Emancipation producer criticised for bringing ‘slave memorabilia’ to premiere

Emancipation producer Joey McFarland has been condemned by critics for bringing “slave memorabilia” to the film’s premiere.

During the movie’s recent red carpet on Wednesday (30 November), McFarland carried with him the “original photograph from 1863” of former slave Peter, on which director Antoine Fuqua’s newest Will Smith-led thriller is based.

Taking the plastic-encased image, titled “Whipped Peter”, from his pocket, he told Variety: “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight.

“It’s [sad] to say so many artefacts and photographs have not been preserved or curated or respected. And I took it upon myself to curate and build a collection for future generations,” McFarland explained, before noting that his collection will be donated for “educational purposes” when he dies.

“My love of history, my love of truth, my love of larger-than-life individuals that had an impact on not just some people’s lives but the world, it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth preserving, it’s worth seeking out and protecting, and that’s what I sought to do,” The Wolf of Wall Street producer added.

“It is a conversation that is needed, it needs to start and continue and keep growing and evolving. We just need to come together. We need to reckon with the past so future generations don’t make the same mistake.”

The Independent has reached out to McFarland for comment.

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Many have responded in “disgust” to the interview clip Variety shared on Twitter, with Rewire News Group editor-at-large Imani Gandy calling it “f***ed up”.

Journalist Yashar Ali commented: “It is really bizarre for a white man to own such an important part of Black history in a private collection and refuse to donate it to a museum until he dies.”

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“I’m probably talking theoretical nonsense,” wrote Film executive Franklin Leonard, before questioning: “Who would run a marketing arbitrage game on slavery memorabilia”?

Another found McFarland’s ownership of “an important part of American history” “offensive” arguing that it “belongs in a museum, not your private collection”.

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“Never mind carrying it in your pocket to movie premieres,” they furthered.

One labelled it “reprehensible”, while someone added: “Black trauma is not your trophy.”

Emancipation stars Will Smith as newly freed slave Peter, whose escape from a Louisiana plantation gives way to a torturous journey to safety.

It marks the first Smith film to be released after the actor slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face on stage at the Oscars for a joke made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

He’s since apologised to Rock twice for the incident, which led to his resignation from the Academy.

Recently appearing on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Smith’s first late-night talk show since the March fiasco, he told host Noah he was “going through something that night”.

He attributed his actions to “bottled rage”.

That same day, 28 November, speaking with journalist Kevin McCarthy, Smith said he “completely understands” if some viewers are not “ready” to watch him lead Emancipation, following his behaviour.

Read The Independent’s two-star review of the film here.

Emancipation will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on 9 December.