A multi-layered satire of race relations in America. Live-action sequences of a prison break bracket the animated story of Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Preacher Fox, who rise to the top of the crime ranks in Harlem by going up against a con-man, a racist cop, and the Mafia.
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by Dane Youssef
"COONSKIN" is a film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satricial indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.
Since "political correctness" is very enforced in this country to the point of fascism--freedom of speech is being blacked-out of the Bill of Rights as I write this... the makers have re-dubbed the movie "Street Fight." It's a more family-friendly inoffensive title, yes.
Sadly, it's almost misleading as to what the film is all about. With the original "Coonskin" moniker, at least the movie makes good on it's threat.
But this is a Bakshi film, contraversal, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...
Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Street Fight" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Street Fight" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.
The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.
"Street Fight" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Street Fight" world alone makes it old-fashioned.
One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means nessicary. The Italian mob is running all the real action.
A lot of the film is inspired by, paralleled and patterned after Walt Disney's most controversial film "Song of the South," which hasn't been released uncut in the U.S. due to political correctness and activists who still look at this as a bigger blunder than the 1992 disasterous "Newsies" musical. "Song of the South" make box-office return, even got a Special Oscar. But most of Disney Corp. still looks back on that one with shame. And as racially charged as that movie was, Bakshi takes it several quantum leaps farther... Which is exactly what he should do, what he's best at...
Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.
The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulful black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.
Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "subtlety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.
Bakshi is god dammed merciless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.
The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.
Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is blackface is gratutiously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.
Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.
Somehow, this one feels inevitably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).
Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter era. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.
Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (jungle-bunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these
"n----ers" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.
The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.
The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.
--In The Name of Bakshi and The Now "African-American" Folk, Dane Youssef