The Art of The Black Panthers: A Short Documentary on the Revolutionary Artist Emory Douglas

Known as the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Artist by his fel­low Black Pan­thers and offi­cial­ly titled their Min­is­ter of Cul­ture, Emory Dou­glas pro­vid­ed the strik­ing visu­als and designed the lay­out to the news­pa­per that bore the organization’s name when it pre­miered in 1967. In this short but insight­ful doc­u­men­tary by the out­fit known as Dress Code, Dou­glas looks back at his time with Eldridge Cleaver, Huey P. New­ton and the oth­er Pan­thers dur­ing that most tumul­tuous decade and a half.

Dou­glas reminds us that San Fran­cis­co was seg­re­gat­ed just as much as the South dur­ing the ear­li­er part of the 20th cen­tu­ry and that police bru­tal­i­ty was, well, just like today, but with­out cell phone cam­eras. Iron­i­cal­ly, it was because Dou­glas went to juve­nile deten­tion (he first got arrest­ed at 13 years old) that he learned screen­print­ing in the print shop there, prim­ing him to help Cleaver start up the The Black Pan­ther news­pa­per in his apart­ment.

Dou­glas’ graph­ic design style was born from necessity–thick black lines did not let col­or seep out as much in the print­ing, and talk­ing about col­or, he could only afford one or two. Pro­fes­sor Colette Gaiter called Dou­glas the “Nor­man Rock­well of the ghet­to,” afford­ing the poor and oppressed a nor­mal­cy in its depic­tions usu­al­ly giv­en to the mid­dle class. And although pigs had sym­bol­ized pow­er, greed and cor­rup­tion long before Dou­glas was born, it was his depic­tion of cops and oth­er author­i­ty fig­ures as anthro­po­mor­phic swine that has stuck with us to this day.

At its height, The Black Pan­ther news­pa­per had a week­ly cir­cu­la­tion of 400,000, but in the ear­ly ‘80s, Dou­glas stepped down as design­er. He has nev­er stopped work­ing for social jus­tice and by the 2000s, his huge body of work began to tour gal­leries and muse­ums, admired for its tech­nique and beau­ty, along with its mes­sage.

A cri­tique of Dress Code’s doc­u­men­tary is that it only affords us sliv­ers of Dou­glas’ art–zoomed in and ani­mat­ed.

This oth­er doc from a 2008 stu­dio vis­it pro­vides a bit more con­text, and for those who would like to see the art along­side the essays, calls to action, and col­lages in the orig­i­nal issues, there are plen­ty of them scanned online for you to read.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kick­start the The­atri­cal Release of the First Com­pre­hen­sive Black Pan­ther Par­ty Doc­u­men­tary

Mal­colm X, Debat­ing at Oxford, Quotes Shakespeare’s Ham­let (1964)

Wattstax Doc­u­ments the “Black Wood­stock” Con­cert Held 7 Years After the Watts Riots (1973)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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