Coonskin (Ralph Bakshi / U.S., 1975):
(Street Fight; Bustin' Out)

A flamethrower of confrontational cartooning, with Song of the South as a starting point: 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 Nigger 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

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