Happy belated 4th of July! This post is day after the fact, but I thought it was appropriate. While everyone else is probably looking at patriotic films, I chose the opposite. The film I chose shows America in a negative light, and metaphorically portrays America as a fickle, beautiful female. She seems nice on the surface, but she can turn in a second. She seduces the Black Man, only to destroy him.
In the 1970’s through the early 1980’s, Ralph Bakshi was the leading pioneer in adult animation. His films became notorious for their political commentary, grotesque art style, and sexual content. His first feature-length directorial effort, Fritz the Cat became the first X-Rated cartoon, and the years following, Bakshi released a series of films that were as equally steeped in controversy. Bakshi’s 70’s films capitalized on the Blaxpoitation era, and represented the free-spirited attitude of the time. I had seen Fritz the Cat, Cool World, and American Pop, but I wanted to check out Coonskin. Of his films, it is the most politically charged, and contains a strong message about the treatment of Blacks in American culture during the 70’s. Of all his films, Bakshi considers Coonskin to be his best work.
The film is a strange hybrid of live-action sequences and gross black caricatures. Bakshi borrowed heavily from the racist animation styles of decades prior. Most of the characters are featured with huge, exaggerated lips, pitch black skin, red eyes and look unappealing in general. Prior to the film’s release, the film was heavily picketed due to its negative Black stereotypes: uneducated, violent, and corrupt.
Coonskin begins in the live-action world with Samson (Barry White), Preacherman (Charles Gordone) who are plotting to break their friend Randy (Phillip Michael Thomas) out of prison. Randy escapes on his own with fellow prisoner Pappy (Scatman Crothers), and Pappy proceeds to tell Randy about a rabbit, bear, and fox who move to Harlem, and become the top crime racket in the city after murdering Simple Savior, a con-artist who posed as a anti-white revolutionary. To control the money in Harlem, Brother Rabbit eliminates the competition: Madigan, a racist, homophobic cop, and the Godfather and his band of sons.
The film is offensive, ugly, and at times painfully truthful. America is painted as a big-breasted, deceitful white woman, who lures Black men to their doom. A film of its kind would never succeed today due to its brutal portrayal of Blacks, women, and the LGBT community. Giving the film thought, American society is ugly- that’s why all the characters are drawn the way they are. There are some live-action sequences that show the Harlem community as it was, but I believe that Bakshi wanted to create a harsh view that disgusts and angers its viewers. One of the most symbolic sequences in the film is the creation of a tar replica of Brother Rabbit, and when the Godfather and his sons attempt to destroy it, they only get stuck in the dark, sticky mass. There really isn’t a truly happy ending to the film. Randy and Pappy escape, but they are still shot by the white prison guard. We do not know what happens to the characters at the close of the film.