In Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’, Racism Is The True Monster – Review
Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…
There are still people who will not say his name five times in a row. I’m one of them, and after watching Nia DaCosta’s version of Candyman, I still do not have the courage to do so. This thrilling, spiritual sequel to the 1992 film of the same name brings in Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and Vanessa Williams (from the 1992 film) to reckon with the legacy of Candyman.
DaCosta’s film centers on artist Anthony McCoy (Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Parris), who’s an art gallery director. Recent inhabitants of the gentrified Cabrini Green neighborhood, the two are navigating a hump in Anthony’s art career. That changes once a fateful encounter with William (Domingo) leads Anthony down the path to uncover the story of Candyman. This unleashes an evil that deteriorates his sanity and begins to terrorize all who say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror.
This version of Candyman leans into the idea of storytelling. The plot of the 1992 version is based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker and cements Candyman as an urban legend in Cabrini-Green. DaCosta’s version places the titular character as an urban legend in the same neighborhood, but his story isn’t the only one being told. Stories of gentrification, mental health, racism, and legacy are told throughout a film that creatively weaves them together. Storytelling plays a crucial role in the Black community and you can feel it play a central theme within this film.
What’s equally salient is the film’s commentary on racism. This movie finds modernized ways of telling the origin story of Candyman and the horrors of racism by incorporating policy brutality, an element to the film that will surely resonate with many viewers. In addition to this, the movie is ladened with cringeworthy moments of microaggressions, with the majority of them occurring to Abdul-Mateen II’s character from other white characters. It even takes a look at the roles that Black people from different socio-economic statuses play in gentrification as well. Ultimately, the film highlights that racism is a system that is perpetuated institutionally, interpersonally, ideologically, and internally.
What’s great about DaCosta’s film is how it also tells Black experiences without feeling like it’s an anthropological study gone wrong. The original Candyman, although a horror classic in its own right, portrayed the Black community of Cabrini-Green as just a part of the white lead character’s research. With a majority Black cast, the feel of the movie becomes less about an outsider looking to study a community from the inside, and more about an outsider seeking retribution for the sins committed to the community.
But that’s the difference between making a movie and randomly inserting Black characters in it, versus making one with Black perspectives and experiences in mind. And like other movies that are part of the Black Horror renaissance that was jump started by Jordan Peele’s (who’s also a producer and writer for Candyman) Get Out, it ensures that Black folks are represented properly in horror, while creating content with influences from classic films. For instance, many viewers may see parallels between The Shining and Night of the Living Dead in DaCosta’s film. Lastly, much like in Peele’s Get Out and Us, having darker-skinned actors in multiple starring roles does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Additionally, the tropes that historically plague Black characters in films are nonexistent. Instead, the film highlights how Black people would respond to frightening situations in a horror movie, while simultaneously critiquing and poking fun at the tropes enacted by white characters in movies. Think intense curiosity towards potentially life-threatening situations and being incredibly risk-tolerant throughout a film. Needless to say, it’s a refreshing take.
Beyond the story and its themes, the acting is solid as well. Abdul-Mateen II delivers as the leading man, whereas Parris and Stewart-Jarrett are charismatic figures in their own ways. It’s also exciting to see Williams revisit her character Anne-Marie McCoy. However, it’s Domingo who steals the show. He conveys his lines with such gravitas and you’re instantly drawn to his presence on screen.
With so many competing storylines afoot, what is wished for is more time to dive into them. The films throw a lot at you at once, and some characters, like Stewart-Jarrett’s Troy, could appreciate more screen time to get more depth out of their characters. The same could be said for Williams’ Anne-Marie McCoy, who could have been used to further tie in the changes that Cabrini-Green has gone through and the legacy left behind by Candyman.
Regardless, DaCosta’s Candyman is haunting, powerful and is another reminder that the racist sins of the past leave behind a legacy that still reverberates strongly today. A legacy that, when transferred to film, is just as impactful. Candyman is an excellent addition to the increasing list of Black Horror films that shine a light on the true horrors of racism.