From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
The tagline of Coonskin is "Warning: This film offends everybody," but this isn't true. It won't offend people who understand satire.
The main target of Coonskin's satire is Disney's 1946 film Song of the South. Ralph Bakski, Coonskin's director, thought that Song of the South inaccurately portrayed the history of the South and was ultimately racist in its depictions.
He wasn't alone. Song of the South was heavily criticized upon release and to date remains one of few Disney films which has never been released on physical media, at least in the USA.
Coonskin was also heavily criticised upon release and, like Song of the South, was accused of being racist. But Coonskin isn't racist. It's satire.
Like all satire, Coonskin exists on two levels: text and subtext. The text being what we see and hear, the subtext being the meaning, i.e., the criticism.
The subtext of Coonskin is: American media is racist in how it depicts black Americans.
The text of Coonskin is: racist depictions of black Americans.
Yeah, that's gonna cause issues for people who can't look beneath the surface and see what's really going on.
And all this is well and good, but is the movie any good?
Well, yes, as long as you don't mind the fact that the movie spends a lot of time world-building at the expense of story-telling. There are, for example, numerous vignettes of life in Harlem -- my favorite is the story a woman tells about a cockroach. This story and others like it are lovely and interesting and funny, but do nothing to advance the plot.
And the plot itself is simplicity itself: Brother Rabbit (Phillip Michael Thomas), Brother Bear (Berry White), and Preacher Fox (Charles Gordone) go to Harlem and work their way up the crime ladder. Along the way they face off against a revolutionary minister who is fleecing the community, a racist police department, and the mafia.
Beautifully animated, always interesting, and with a fantastic score, Coonskin is a challenging film to be sure, but it is a challenge worth facing.
Rob McGee has written comedy and short stories for The American Bystander, Sammiches and Psych Meds, and a number of other funny places online and off. You can follow him on YouTube.