Disney's Song of The South took classic Uncle Remus characters based on African American folklore and used them to present racist caricatures of Black people. Coonskin takes those same characters, Bre'r Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear and puts them in a different setting. While the film shares a similar style, it is complete satire. It is far from the same depictions. Instead is a film that deals with stereotypes, racism and homophobia.
Our film begins with Sampson and Preacher planning to break their friend Randy out of prison, but they're stopped and forced into a shootout with police. Meanwhile, Randy and an old man named Pappy are escaping from the prison. Pappy begins to tell Randy a story about his friends. Those friends are Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear and Preacher Fox.

After the bank sells their family home to a man who turns it into a brothel, the three leave the South and head to Harlem, New York. Soon after they arrive they're lured into an event run by Simple Savior, a con man who claims to have the power of God, and the ability to kill whites. They're quick to recognize this is a scam and inadvertently start a feud with Simple Savior. This leads to Rabbit taking up a spot in the mob. Preacher Fox starts his own brothel where you can be married for the night and he'll "divorce you in the morning." Brother Bear stands alongside rabbit until it is time for him to find his own path, in which he settles on boxing. Despite this, all three have made enemies and they come together again to take those enemies on.

Throughout the actual films we see short interludes in which we view Miss America. Miss America is an intriguing character for sure. She's a tall blonde woman with large breasts and hips, scantily clad in red, white and blue, American flag clothing. You know, the woman from all the country music videos. In each of her short vignettes, she murders a black man. She may lure them in with the promise of sex, just to shoot them with a gun hidden in her vagina. She can use the promise of wealth and fame. On one occasion a man tells her he doesn't need money, power or fame because he's a proud Black man, and she can't take that. She simply smiles and yells "rape," then a group of white men kill him. The thing is, she always finds a way to kill them after getting whatever she wanted from them and they are no longer of any use. The skits are almost comical right up until the death. After the first, you know what to expect, but still get lured in as if just maybe this time America won't try to screw you over.
But, Miss America isn't the only person we see taking advantage of Black people in the film. We see plenty of white people doing it, but the ones that hurt most, are other Black characters. Simple Savior, the gun toting, self proclaimed cousin of Black Jesus is the most obvious. He hops around naked, blasting off guns, performing "miracles," and promising "the strength to kill whites." The entire scheme is just to take in money from people who don't know that this is all an act. Then he splits the funds with a white man who runs it as a mob racket. It's a little depressing because we still suffer from the same things today, not just preachers but organizations who promise the ability to end racism, only to run off with the bag. Take for instance, Black Lives Matter LLC, which is vastly different from Black Lives Matter, the decentralized grass roots social movement that has been present since 2013. Still, Black Lives Matter LLC collected a lot of money, and people have begun to ask questions recently. Not just people who think this is some money laundering scheme for gangs, but people who gave money to the LLC who promoted themselves as official representatives of the movement when that just wasn't the case. Coonskin makes it very clear that while fighting outside factors we have to fight within as well.

I often say there's a difference between outsiders who embrace Black culture and those who exploit it. Ralph Bakshi is a man who I believe truly embraced the culture. As an immigrant in America, he lived in predominantly Black low income housing of Brooklyn. As a child his mother had to sign vouchers so that he could attend the Black schools with his friends, because segregation was law back then. When his family was living in Washington DC, there was an occasion where a police were called to remove him from class because they couldn't figure out why he was there. It isn't as if this is his only work that depicts racism in America, it is simply the most overt. In his first film Fritz The Cat there's a scene where some girls attempt to flirt with Crow and Felix gets upset because they don't realize they're being passively racist. When he sleeps with the girls he quickly dismisses them without hesitation because of their prior actions. I've said it before but Disney built their empire on racism, and Bakshi believes the same and has been slipping plenty of Disney references in his work for years. Including a scene where Micky Mouse cheers as a Black neighborhood is bombed by the United States Air Force.

Despite Bakshi's love of Black people, the film rubbed some people the wrong way. Personally, I believe the reason for that is because satire isn't recognized by the true definition of the word. Satire, at its core is using exaggerated humor or irony to ridicule societies' (or people's) ignorance. Somewhere we Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal where eating babies to keep the rich happy is discussed as acceptable to people believing the film Anchorman is a satire. It seems even in 1975, the vote was split. The Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE took to picketing showings of the film and demanding it not be released. This was all without having seen the film, only read a version of the script. On the flip side, the NAACP actually came out in support of the film stating it was hard to digest satire, but necessary for the climate at the time.

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Coonskin Coonskin Reviewed by Darrell S. on Friday, February 05, 2021 Rating: 5

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