Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Colman Domingo and Director Nia DaCosta on Updating ‘Candyman’ From a Black Perspective

When the first trailer debuted for “Candyman” — director Nia DaCosta and producer Jordan Peele’s “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 horror classic — there was a great deal of buzz about the use of a slowed-down remix of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” alongside the original movie’s haunting score.

But upon further reflection — the needle drop was an early hint at the way DaCosta and Peele’s take would examine deeper social themes. And the call to say “Candyman” in the mirror five times ultimately mirrors the call to remember real-life victims of racial violenc.

“We shot this right up until everything started to get locked down in March of 2020, before our summer of racial reckoning,” “Candyman” star Colman Domingo told Variety. “So we were already starting to shout quietly, ‘Say her name. Say his name,’ and then it reverberated even more so in the streets.”

In the case of #SayHerName, what began as a hashtag campaign by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) in 2014, was supercharged by the worldwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, themes which this new version of “Candyman” takes on.

“We have this film as an extraordinary examination of so much — of art, of commerce, of criticism, of racial reckoning, of Black trauma and pain and how do we process it? And it’s under the whole tentpole of horror, which is a great connective tissue, and a way for us to examine this stuff together, Black, white, and other.”

The 1992 movie — from director Bernard Rose and starring Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd as Candyman — was followed up by two sequels. Yet the 2021 movie marks the first time that Daniel Robitaille’s story of being transformed into Candyman is told by a group of primarily Black creatives. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Domingo and DaCosta explained why viewing this tale through a Black lens makes a difference.

“Having a Black creative team behind this allows us to make it our story,” Abdul-Mateen II said.”This version of Candyman gives us a chance to take back his story and to present a character who was turned into a monster, and we present a character who has a soul and someone who we can be empathetic towards.”

He continued: “It’s really a form of taking our narrative, taking the story of our history and our trauma and telling it back the way that we desire to tell it.”

Abdul-Mateen stars as Anthony McCoy, seen in the original movie as the baby kidnapped by Candyman, tying the two stories together. Vanessa Williams also reprises her role, playing his mother, Anne-Marie. Anthony is an emerging artist that recently returned to a gentrified Chicago with his partner Brianna Cartwright (Parris), who is a gallery director. Domingo plays William Burke, a Cabrini-Green resident who opens Anthony’s eyes to the bitter truths behind the Candyman legend, inspiring the young artist to dig deeper, and ultimately re-awakening the spirit.

“William is an every man. He is an ordinary citizen with an extraordinary tale,” Domingo explained. “He is someone who has suffered a lot of the slings and arrows of his humanity and he suffers with a lot of trauma.”

But despite those traumas, the actor continued, the character strives to carry on the community’s history and “saying, ‘You cannot erase it by just tearing these buildings down.’ If you want us, want all of us, and that means you got to unpack our trauma too.”

And in order to authentically unpack that trauma through this movie, Domingo notes that having DaCosta at the helm, directing from a script she wrote alongside Peele and Win Rosenfeld, was crucial.

“When we’re dealing with Black trauma, it is important to have all eyes from a Black perspective, and that means in every department,” Domingo said. “It’s beautiful, I love seeing Teyonnah’s dark skin and her hair in these thick locs and things like that. There’s nothing codified for another audience.”

Instead of code-switching or dumbing things down to make the story palatable, he explains, the movie is made for and by the people it’s about with the intention of inviting people who haven’t lived the Black experience into the conversation, which continues via the #TellEveryone social impact initiative, created by the team behind the film, which includes an official companion guide to the movie’s themes, crafted in collaboration with Langston League.

During a press conference, DaCosta explained how her experiences as a Black woman informed Brianna’s journey through the movie.

“Something that people talk about a lot in the Black community is how Black women hold it up, basically,” DaCosta explained, answering a question from Variety.. “Black women don’t get to really process and work through their trauma because they’re too busy dealing with everyone else’s. And that’s sort of what I want to talk about with Brianna.”

“Obviously her partner is having a really hard time, but she has her own trauma that she’s never really dealt with. And the closer this legend of Candyman gets, the more it kind of keeps coming up and coming up and and haunting her the way that Candyman haunts Cabrini-Green,” the filmmaker continued. “That was something I really want to talk about because I see it and I’ve experienced it myself. And I thought that was a really important part of the love story [between Brianna and Anthony].”

And because this new addition to the Candyman canon is as much about reclaiming Daniel Robitaille’s legacy as it is focused on Anthony’s future, Tony Todd is also part of the project. Speaking to Todd’s legacy within the franchise, Abdul-Mateen said, “Hopefully the job that we did with this one will make him proud and will leave audiences satisfied as well.”

“We feel like we are on the shoulders of greatness, of great men and women who stood before us,” Domingo added, of Todd. “I’m glad that he’s being amplified with this experience as well.”

DaCosta’s “Candyman” is now in theaters. Rose’s “Candyman” is streaming on Peacock.

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