Revolutionary Artist: Emory Douglas on the Black Panthers and Melvin Van Peebles

Criterion Designs

Oct 13, 2021

Revolutionary Artist: Emory Douglas on the Black Panthers and Melvin Van Peebles

Emory Douglas and the Art of Revolution, Urbis Centre, Manchester, Britain—29 Oct 2008. Photo by Mark Campbell; courtesy of Shutterstock.

Revolutionary Artist: Emory Douglas on the Black Panthers and Melvin Van Peebles

Criterion Designs

Oct 13, 2021

When I was growing up in the 1970s, the Black Panther Party’s trademark Afros and black leather jackets were a familiar sight. But it wasn’t until I began studying the Black Panthers in my late teens that I became familiar with the foundational ideals laid out in the group’s Ten-Point Program—around the same time that I decided to pursue a career in art, a path that eventually led me to found the design studio Slang Inc. The Panthers’ commitment to the community directly influences my intention to create work that speaks to and for those whose voices are suppressed. As its minister of culture, Emory Douglas was a core member of the organization whose responsibilities included refining the logo, designing the Black Panther newspaper, and creating its powerful cover imagery. His reduced-color line drawings and bold design style are both timely and timeless.

When I got the call to design the Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films box set, my answer was an automatic yes. Learning that Mr. Douglas was already working on a cover illustration solidified that I’d made the right choice. I asked for an introduction in hopes of thanking him directly for showing me and generations of artists how to use our voices to change the world. When the project was completed, the Criterion Collection put us in touch. During our conversation, he spoke about joining the party, the Panthers’ role in promoting Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and why a “we” mindset is better than a “me” mindset.

Cover art for Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, featuring an illustration by Emory Douglas
The front page of the Black Panther, June 19, 1971. Image courtesy of the Freedom Archives.
Artwork by Emory Douglas, published in the Black Panther
Poster for the Lowndes County Freedom Organization

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