Film and Plot Synopsis
Coonskin is about an African American rabbit, fox, and bear who rise to the top of the organized crime racket in Harlem, encountering corrupt law enforcement, con artists and the Mafia.
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‘Coonskin’ Movie Summary
Brother Rabbit (Philip Michael Thomas), Brother Bear (Barry White), and Preacher Fox (Charles Gordone) leave their southern home after the bank mortgages it to a man who turns it into a brothel. They move to Harlem in New York City because it’s supposed to be a home to every black man. However, once there, the three find the place isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
They meet a grifter named Simple Savior who claims to be the cousin of Black Jesus and he says his followers have the authority to kill all white people. He gives the assembled parishioners an elaborate song and dance about the symbols of black oppression—John Wayne, Elvis Presley, and Richard Nixon—brutalizing him. He then asks the crowd for money to buy weapons to fight the white man.
Rabbit recognizes Simple Savior for what he is and causes a scene with the crowd, and Savior orders his boys to kill him. However, Rabbit tricks them and he and Bear kill Savior instead. Rabbit then takes over Savior’s racket and looks to become the head of all organized crime in Harlem. The only people in his way are a corrupt cop named Madigan (Frank de Kova ) and the head of the Mafia—you know him as The Godfather (Al Lewis).
Rabbit first goes after Madigan, who also happens to be the bagman for the Mafia which turns out to be an easy kill for Rabbit. While out with some Mafia muscle named Ruby (Frank de Kova ) and Bobby, Madigan finds out that Rabbit’s been taking his payoffs. The three head to a nightclub named The Cottontail to confront Rabbit. Madigan sends Ruby to the roof to keep a lookout and has Bobby stay out front while he goes inside. The female manager greets Madigan, sits him at a table, and gives him some complimentary drinks while black stripper entertains him until Rabbit arrives.
While distracted, the manager puts an LSD sugar cube into his drink which sends Madigan on a wild trip. Rabbit’s goons then throw him into a room with an effeminate gay man before shoving him into a women’s outfit to make him look like the mammy stereotype. They powder his face black and shove him out the back of the club. He falls down next to a dead Ruby and Bobby. As the drugs wear off, Madigan starts arbitrarily shooting his gun in the air. The police arrive and kill him on the spot—no questions asked.
Next up is The Godfather who lives in the subway with his wife and sons—most of whom are gay. He orders his only straight son, Sonny (Richard Paul) to kill Rabbit because the others aren’t man enough for the job. Sonny heads to Rabbit’s nightclub disguised in black-face and looking like a racist minstrel. He shoots at Rabbit and misses his target—Bear takes a few to the stomach though. As Sonny drives off in his car, Rabbit shoots him multiple times and his car crashes. He burns to death inside. His cremated remains are then scooped into a box and sent home on the subway where his mother morns over them.
Bear survives being shot and is now torn between staying with Rabbit or living a crime-free life. He tracks down Preacher Fox for advice, but finds Fox is now running a special kind of brothel—one where he marries a John to a prostitute and then divorces them the next day once he’s had his fun. He marries Bear to one of his working girls, but doesn’t give him any advise.
Soon after, The Godfather bribes the Preacher Fox to get a meeting with Rabbit, but he says that the only way to get to Rabbit is through Bear. Preacher Fox sets up a meeting with Bear and The Godfather’s goons under the guise of giving him advise to get out of this life of crime. They tell Bear to become a boxer for the Mafia who then fixes fights for him.
After much success, Bear becomes the world champion, and people start talking that Bear is making money from The Godfather. To put an end to that, Rabbit sets one of his men to beat Bear in the squared-circle. Knowing Rabbit will attend the match, The Godfather prepares to attend so that he may personally kill Rabbit. However, Rabbit’s wise to him and he makes a mockup of himself out of tar which he places ringside. The Godfather and his goons take the bait and stab the tar rabbit, causing them to be entangled in one gooey mess. Rabbit lights a fuse attached to the tar before he, Bear, Preacher Fox, and Bear’s opponent hightail it out of the arena. The tar explodes—killing The Godfather and his goons.
We cut back to Pappy at the finish of his story and it’s now daylight. The two men are exposed at the prison’s walls and still waiting for the getaway car. Finally Samson drives up with Preacherman and Pappy and Randy make a run for it. The prison guard begin shooting at them and the car with machine guns. They hit Pappy in the leg and Samson in the chest, but Pappy and Randy make it into the car. The four men escape and head back down south as free men.
Additional Film Information
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Bryanston Distributing Company released Coonskin on August 20, 1975. Ralph Bakshi directed the film starring Barry White, Charles Gordone, and Scatman Crothers.