Joe Rosenthal’s historic photograph depicting five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag on Iwo Jima is one of America’s most iconic war-related images. It is also one of the most parodied images, but a recent depiction of the event sparked fury on social media.
On June 26, photographer Ed Freeman posted a picture he took more than a decade ago for the cover of Frontiers, a gay magazine, that shows four male models planting a gay pride flag similarly to how the six soldiers planted the flag at Iwo Jima 70 years ago. Freeman’s Facebook post celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to allowing same-sex marriage nationwide.
“When I took this picture almost ten years ago, it never, never occurred to me that it would someday come to symbolize the victory we are celebrating today,” Freeman said in the post. “Congratulations to all of us! Love to you all.”
The backlash against the photograph was fierce, according to The Washington Post, with many social media users saying that comparing the sacrifice of American soldiers in World War II with the struggle for gay rights was disrespectful.
"Altering the American flag colors && trying to remake the "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" photograph with the gay pride flag is degrading," one user said.
"I get all that gay marriage stuff but to replace the American flag from the iconic Iwo Jima picture, just no," another post read.
Freeman, whose studio is in Los Angeles, told the Post he even received a death threat that he reported to the FBI.
"This picture was just a flashpoint for a lot people who are looking for a reason to lash out, so I guess I get to be the whipping boy,” Freeman told the Post about the backlash. “I’m fine with that if that’s what it takes.”
The Iwo Jima motif has appeared elsewhere, including to sell beer and promote the Hard Rock Cafe, and its use has been similarly criticized. In 2008, Time magazine was criticized for using an altered version of the Iwo Jima photograph showing soldiers planting a tree. That cover, which was meant to compare the struggle to win the war to the struggle to combat climate change, even drew condemnation from some fellow journalists.