When Emory Douglas first joined the Black Panthers to lend his art to the revolution, his family took out an insurance policy on him. “They didn’t think I was gonna survive,” he says, laughing, in a short film by production company Dress Code.
Through a tightly edited mix of existing footage sourced from public and private archives and a recent interview with Douglas in his Bay Area studio, the film details the artist’s transformation from young Fillmorean to revolutionary artist and Minister of Culture for the Party. “My art is about informing and enlightening people about issues. Not necessarily everything I do is provocative. Lot of it is based on fact. It may be a provocative interpretation, but it’s not a distorted interpretation,” Douglas says, comparing the civil rights struggle of his youth to the conditions he sees young black people facing today.
His larger point is one that rings loudest: “Art has relevancy. Whether it’s to exploit you or pacify you, or enlighten and inform you," Douglas says. During a year filled with social, political, and cultural highs and lows, I've found myself turning to art to make sense of the world more than I have in years: whether looking for liberation through D'Angelo, or a challenge from Kendrick, or a breadth of memory via Jamie xx.
Watch the eight-minute documentary above, and check out some of Emory Douglas’ archival work via the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.