Say his name in the mirror five times: “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman”. Simply typing the phrase causes my heart to race and sends a shiver down my spine. For decades the legend has injected fear into thrill seekers daring enough to utter his name. And to this day I can distinctly remember the haunting soundtrack, “Music Box” by Philip Glass.
In recent years the Horror genre has fostered the talent of Black visionaries such as Jordan Peele, who rose to prominence with his award-winning film, Get Out. Up-and-coming fillmmaker Nia DaCosta will now enter the limelight as the director to the 2021 adaption of Candyman. Since releasing her debut film, Little Woods in 2018, the creative has become known as pioneer for a generation of Black, female filmmakers. Her rise to directorial stardom has been a long time coming. Not only from delays caused by the pandemic (it had an original release date of June 2020) but moreso the capacity for Hollywood to tell diverse cultural stories.
Speaking to DaCosta on a long-distance phone call, she echoes this notion. “I think horror movies for a long time have tried to comment on society while they scare you. Because it’s a useful tool in getting people to understand what someone might fear in the real world.
“With films like Get Out, Hollywood thought, ‘Oh these films are not only profitable, they’re worthwhile’… More and more different points-of-views are moving into the space.”
Bernard Rose’s original Candyman was pivotal for people of colour on the screen as it explored topics of gentrification and tensions between race. For the first time, a major American horror film cast a Black man as its titular character and main antagonist. And some 30 years later Candyman’s story has continued. Adapted from the 1992 cult horror classic, DaCosta describes the modern film as a “spiritual sequel”.
For decades residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects have been terrorised by the word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer. He has a hook for a hand and is easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. Ten years after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), move into a luxury loft condo in the now-gentrified neighbourhood. In a chance encounter, McCoy explores the old tale and opens a whole new wave of violence to the city. The cast also stars Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo.
“There are two ways in looking at the film,” she notes in relation to the new release. “One, is it’s a spiritual sequel because it is yes, a continuation, but it also inhabits a completely different world in a way and we’re shifting the lens, shifting the point of view. And then the other way is a reimagining.”
“We wanted to expand the mythology and let people know, ‘Ok you love the first film but don’t expect to get a rehashing of that.’”
As DaCosta previously shared, there are many similarities to the two films. The setting of Chicago’s old Cabrini-Green neighbourhood, certain aspects of the script and of course, mirroring some of its iconic scenes. In particular fans of the 1992 iteration would recall Candyman’s mouth filled with bees (I was assured real bees weren’t used in the remaking of the 2021 scene). It was that picture that would later haunt the minds of those brave enough to watch the film and forms a fitting tribute to the new instalment. The film is both entertaining and challenging for the audience in its portrayal of the Black experience.
The director says she tapped into her own background to form the narrative. This primarily included being a Black creator in 2021. When DaCosta and I spoke, it was just months after the Black Lives Matter protests swept across the world.
“Anthony is talking to his dealer and he’s trying to be helpful but really trying to mine his life experience and his pain in order to make money essentially,” she said. “I think that can be a tricky line to walk as a creator and as some who is facilitating a creator’s work. You know that line where Colman [Domingo] (who plays William Burke) says ‘They love what we make, but they don’t love us’, I think that is something that Black people and Black creators especially have to deal with.”
“Hip hop for example is one of the most popular forms of music right now and yet Black people are still being killed in the streets and justice is hard to come by. As a Black filmmaker I definitely see a lot of myself in Anthony and it’s definitely something I wanted to touch on in the film.”
While for many of us cinema is a much-needed form of escapism, the filmmaker hopes to inspire “empathy” in the real world. But when it comes to summoning Candyman for herself? DaCosta’s response was clear: “Absolutely not.”
Candyman is in cinemas now.