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‘There are so many ways Black people experience trauma through racism’: How ‘Candyman’ blends horror and social commentary

Candyman — the new sequel to the horror classic Candyman (yes, Hollywood has given a sequel the same name as its predecessor … again) — deeply expands on the terrifying premise and lasting legacy of the 1992 original. That film, of course, saw victims bludgeoned by a hooked murderer (Tony Todd) after they boldly stated “Candyman” into a mirror five times.

“I was a fan of the film since I was a kid, it was always part of the atmosphere growing up,” director and co-writer Nia DaCosta told Yahoo Entertainment (watch above). “To be able to be part of that in a really direct way was really, really exciting, and fun, even though it was about really, really heavy stuff.”

Horror films have long integrated social commentary into their scares, and the 1992 film generally doesn’t get enough credit for its wokeness. The slasher was the spirit of a slave’s son who was murdered by a white mob for his relationship with a Caucasian woman. As Rolling Stone’s Evan Narcisse pointed out in 2018, the film then turned the embodiment of fear-mongering over the American Black man into a literal boogeyman.

DaCosta, who co-wrote the script for the new film with Jordan Peele — who knows a thing or two about employing racial subtext to scare-fests like Get Out and Us — elevates those themes by folding in storylines involving police violence, gentrification and other issues that plague the Black community. The story follows an artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) living in a Chicago high-rise with his girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) who unwittingly channels the eponymous killer as he creates art inspired by his myth.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in "Candyman." (Universal)

“Danny Robitaille — that [original] Candyman — he was lynched in a lynch mob,” DaCosta says. “And so we were like, ‘OK, what’s racial violence on that scale look like now?’ And one of the ways, at least in America, is police brutality. There are so many other ways Black people experience trauma through racism, so we also wanted to touch on those things.”

“The groundwork was laid for you, with this story and this genre, and this urban legend, this urban myth,” says Colman Domingo (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Zola), who plays a neighborhood local who educates Abdul-Mateen’s artist on the history of Candyman. “And we get to take it on and tell it to modern audiences. It feels timely, especially now after a year of racial reckoning in America, to really examine and unpack this stuff together.

“It’s unpacking so much, when it comes to Black men, when it comes to Black women, when it comes to LGBT communities, disenfranchised people, and how we’re trying to reckon with the trauma within that we deal with every single day.”

Abdul-Mateen and Parris agree.

“What drew me to this iteration was that we would be talking about something,” says Parris (WandaVision). “There would messages, themes, ideas in here that weren’t solely horror to make you jump.”

“One of the things that I was really proud to do was to humanize Candyman,” Abdul-Mateen (Watchmen) says. “In my memory he was always a villain, just a scary person, a monster without very much purpose. And I think one of the things that we did in this one is give the Candyman an idea of soul.”

Candyman is now in theaters.

Watch the trailer:

— Video produced by Jenny Miller and edited by Schuyler Stone