Ralph Bakshi | USA | 1975 | 100 mins.
Bakshi's films affirm the fact that adult animation doesn't always mean just a purposeless exploitation and depiction of vulgarity, nudity and violence, but it may even open up problematic areas which aren't discussed in public.
In his work, Bakshi proved that the genre of adult animation does not mean an autotelic use and presentation of vulgarity, nakedness and violence, but rather opens up problematic fields shunned in public debate. According to Bakshi, animation is a kind of street art and should be based on means of expression similar to those of graffiti or the rap culture. The film Coonskin from the mid 1970s represents one of the concrete realizations of his artistic worldview. By its formal aspects, the film resembles an authentic blending of American Graffiti, Dirty Harry and films by John Waters.
Bakshi grew up in neighborhood of a black and a Jewish ghetto, acquiring a rooted sensitivity for the minority question and a natural anti-xenophobia and anti-racism. Coonskin was conceived and projected as a homage to the culture of African Americans with multiple allusions to its achievements; and yet at the time of its release, the film met with misunderstanding and prejudice, even though it is prejudice and stereotypes the film really opposes. The film has a double line of development; the frame story is constituted by the live action of two blacks waiting for help in their escape from prison; one of them, a peculiar, talkative type, tells the other stories about Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear and Preacher Fox.
The narrated story is animated, although even here, Bakshi makes use of photographed scenes of reality in the background. In this way, he wants to get closer to the poetry of the street and to embed the art of animation into the concrete coordinates of space and time. The film Coonskin presents all kinds of racial prejudice of the white majority towards minority groups, especially African Americans. However, even Italians, Jews and homosexuals receive their share.
Besides a whole range of intertext allusions to traditional black folk tales, blaxploitation films, the minstrel show or the works by caricaturist George Herriman, Bakshi also supported the black theme by inviting a number of black artists to participate on the film. Scatman Crothers and Barry White acted in the live action part, others provided the voices of the animated characters as well as the jazz and rap music. Several black animators also worked on the film. In spite of that, the fi lm aroused a wave of indignation among several African American groups, calling for a distribution ban even before the public ever saw the film. It was enough for a white director to make a film about blacks on the mafia theme. Paradoxically, this proves the significance and necessity of Bakshi's work, as it is this very kind of blind, irrational, a priori prejudice and judgement that the film ridicules.