Emancipation producer Joey McFarland showing "Whipped Peter" at the red carpet event.

Emancipation Producer Apologizes for Showing “Whipped Peter” Photo

Will Smith’s film Emancipation is already creating waves, as its producer, Joey McFarland showed a grisly image at the Red Carpet of its muse.

Apple TV+ is looking (hard) at Hollywood’s Award Season with its look at one man’s fight against slavery in Emancipation. The film, starring Mr. Congeniality Will Smith, is a grueling portrayal of life for an enslaved man–and then when he tries to break free.

Yet, the one man’s fight national media is discussing now is that of the film’s producer, Joey McFarland. He walked the red carpet premiere of the Antoine Fuqua film carrying an original image of one of the most harrowing visuals of the Civil War. In the process, he stirred up the wrong kind of publicity for the movie.

Will Smith plays a slave named Peter, whown by a notable and ominous picture of an escaped slave known as “Whipped Peter.” In some circles, people see this image as “The Scourged Back.” And it’s brutal.


Whipped Peter was the muse behind Will Smith's movie Emancipation, and the reason its producer had to apologize. 

Via Agents of Fandom
“Whipped Peter” is believed to be from circa 1863. (Source: African-American Registry)

If you know anyone who doubts the sardonic nature of slave masters and the evil indentured servants lived with daily, zoom in on Peter’s back. No CGI, photo editing software, or bull. That is 100% real. This escaped slave went through hell–and hell lost.

This unprecedented image is from a medical examination in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1863. The slave’s name is thought to be Gordon, although the image’s name is “Whipped Peter.” For his defiance, Peter was thrashed and mutilated of the likes few people would survive. This is what happens when a slave master had his way with your penance.

Nothing but vile, course hate.

Emancipation was inspired by this man’s struggle to leave for his dignity, fight for his life, and sustain his soul. Joey McFarland wanted to share his life as the muse behind this torturous existence. And today, he had to apologize.

A Picture is Worth 1,000 More Words

Now that you have seen the trailer and the inspiration for the film, you know some dark material acted as its muse. That visceral image isn’t just from a dark source; that is downright sinister. See the featured image? McFarland is at the premiere, parading the original photo to “have a piece of Peter” with him.

Additionally, he wanted to use it to close the door on why his movie is so violent. The problem is that he opened another door to cynics across the country, assuming he had ulterior motives.

  • Why are you touting a piece of Peter with such pride?
  • Why do you own that photograph in the first place?
  • If you care for it with respect, why parade it around the premiere with such disrespect?
  • What are you doing with that image when you’re not selling tickets to a movie?

Of course, this was never McFarland’s intent. He is a benefactor of Emancipation, not a hater of it. Yet, it wasn’t a good look–ergo, the apology, which he issued on Instagram:


Peter escaped a 3,000-acre plantation along the west bank of the Atchafalaya River in St. Landry Parish in 1863. He rubbed raw onions over his entire body hosting eviscerated open wounds to throw bloodhounds off his scent. It took 10 days for him to traverse 40 miles when he met Union soldiers who took him in.

That’s the origin of Joey McFarland’s picture. And now, the world sees one of the worst atrocities ever committed in global history. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time moviegoers saw Peter’s image on film. In 2012, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln features a young Tad Lincoln looking at a glass plate that featured the famous medical examination photo.

If you want a spoiler, the rest of Will Smith’s portrayal is a matter of open records, historic accuracy, and remarkable fortitude. What McFarland did on the red carpet will not take away from the impact this movie should have on Americans. Will Smith’s banishment from the Oscars shouldn’t be either, because a golden statuette will likely be sent to his house with special care.

We’ll soon see. Emancipation premieres in theaters on Dec. 2, then on Apple TV+ on Dec. 9.

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