When Martin Scorsese was filming Taxi Driver (1976) near Times Square, he captured footage of people running out of a theater showing this film due to protesters setting off a smoke bomb. He sent this footage to Bakshi who said "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry".
Although the movie had been opposed by the Congress of Racial Equality, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) had written a letter describing the film as a difficult satire, but supported it. C.O.R.E.'s protest led to the film's eventual disappearance.
The film was subject to numerous protests by the Congress of Racial Equality led by Al Sharpton. After the group disrupted the premiere screening, Ben Gage was hired to re-record some of Barry White's voice track, in order to remove "racist references and vulgarity".
Ralph Bakshi was able to persuade Albert S. Ruddy to produce the film by claiming it was a remake of Song of the South (1946). This film satirizes the folk tales and character of Uncle Remus upon which "Song of the South" was based upon.
The working title was "Harlem Nights." Harlem Nights (1989) was later used as the title of a film starring Richard Pryor, who was a fan of Ralph Bakshi's film. Both films feature the crime racket in Harlem as a plot point.