Pepe the Frog celebrated his fifteenth birthday this year, but chances are you first stumbled upon him during the 2016 US election in the pungent depths of a racist Twitter thread. That was the year when Matt Furie’s cartoon went from being a “happy little frog” to becoming the unexpected mascot of the alt-right movement.
The history behind Pepe is complicated bordering on indecipherable, much like anything that grew to prominence on 4chan, the controversial anonymous message board that has long harboured racists, sexists and political extremists. The cartoon first appeared as a meme on the forum in 2008 after being lifted from Furie’s 'Boys Club #1' comic strip, and it gained such popularity that even Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj shared Pepe images on social media. Eight years later it was official recognised as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. So what changed?
Feels Good Man, the Sundance award-winning documentary from Arthur Jones, follows Furie around as he attempts to repair his infamous cartoon’s reputation. But can Pepe be redeemed, or is he better left to fester with the white supremacists of the world? The fact that he has recently been co-opted by Hong Kong protestors would suggest that Furi’s frog still wields some power; that his prominent place in politics is, bafflingly, far from over.
Describing the film, director Jones says: “The movie is really about him negotiating that uncomfortable reality for himself, [...] Matt’s personal journey really makes the movie really unique that I hope a lot of people find satisfying for a lot of reasons.”
First and foremost, it’s a story about how powerless we become after we put something into the world. As Furie says: “I’m just a spectator to how things evolved on the internet.”
Feels Good Man will be available streaming and on demand in the US on 4 September. A UK date is yet to be announced.
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