A subversive and satirical re-imagining of Disney’s Song Of The South with an urban spin, Ralph Bakshi’s incendiary masterpiece Coonskin exploits and eviscerates grotesque American racial stereotypes with a politically incorrect, profane and vicious sense of humor.
A flamethrower of confrontational cartooning Ralph Bakshi intensifies the minstrelsy where Disney coats it with honey, his “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is a “Fuck you” hurled right at audiences. “Ah’m a N****r Man” (“I’ve been red, white, and blue’d on”) is the overture, sung magnificently by Scatman Crothers in profile over the credits, the choleric preacher (Charles Gordone) sets the stage with a sermon in a church empty but for a pair of kids. Gordone crams into a car with Barry White and off they go to bust their bud (Philip Michael Thomas) out of prison; the wait is long so fellow con Crothers spins a tale, and jive-talking furries, slags, junkies, and other unholy toons are drawn on William A. Fraker’s cinematography. Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Preacher Fox ditch the South for Harlem, where racial stereotypes can be amplified until humor boils away and submerged hate splatters the screen. Rabbit follows the Black Caesar trajectory, Bear steps into the boxing ring to evoke Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, Fox meets his snake-oil match in Black Jesus, the rotund charlatan who breathes fire out of his neon-lit cross while bilking the congregation (“Segregate! Integrate! Masturbate!”). A crooked cop is dipped in blackface and left to shoot it out with the NYPD, the “Godfather” is a swollen subway pig with a brood of sodomites; Miss America has the stars and stripes painted on her buxom body, the noose falls on a serenading black suitor when she sweetly cries “rape.” Pungent ideas and grenade-images are penciled in throughout, often Bakshi lets one become a self-enclosed film of its own—a melancholy sister recounts the tale of the straying cockroach she grew to love, a rat floats into the monologue and is blasted after flashing the evil Mickey grin. Bold racial vaudeville and jolting session of cultural exorcism, Bakshi’s picture is its own tar-baby, making itself open to ignorant punches only to entangle them with the implicating, toxic stickiness of the ugly assumptions that have been swept under our collective rug.”—- Fernando F. Croce
Released in 1975 to a firestorm of controversy, it took Coonskin several years before the film found an audience that could appreciate it as an edgy aesthetic experiment and a powerful social statement. Wu Tang Clan had plans to re-make it and Spike Lee’s Bamboozeled , released 25 years after Coonskin, echoes Bakshi’s brutal take on the pervasive, ages-old, racism in American popular culture.
Sometimes art needs to go over-the-top in order to roil up the dark side of our collective consciousness…to shove into the light the shit we’re too afraid to talk about and too ashamed to acknowledge. Sometimes the only way to make that reality check bearable is to find the ridiculous, the absurd and the insanity within the demons trapped in the briar patch of our shared mythologies.