At the grown and mature age of 37, I still won’t utter Candyman’s name in a mirror. Like most children who grew up in the 90’s, the film has infused a terror inside of me like none other. Now 29 years later, the sequel to the 1992 iconic movie that frightened a whole generation, has re-emerged with a scarier storyline – gentrification and social/racial injustice in today’s society.
Returning to the sequel is the original Candyman (played by Tony Todd) and Anne-Marie McCoy (played by Vanessa Estelle Williams). This go round, Candyman is revived when Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an inquisitive artist in need of inspiration for his next project, fixates on the tale of a man with a hook for a hand. Directed by Nia DaCosta and co-written and produced by Jordan Peele, get ready for a modern-day thriller that explores something more alarming than the man with bees swarming around his head. As the story unfolds, We’re taken on a journey that explores a deeper conversation of how gentrification and racial injustice go hand in hand.
Although the film has plenty of moments that tie both the original film and sequel together, Vanessa Williams return helps solidify the storyline. In an exclusive interview with HelloBeautiful, the actress gave us the low down on the film’s diversity, the importance representation, and how beautiful it is to shift the narrative so that we are telling our own stories.
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HelloBeautiful: Nia DaCosta is receiving her accolades for being the first Black female director to debut a film at number one. A huge honor for her and everyone in the film. How does that make you feel?
Vanessa Williams: It feels all kinds of right. It feels all kinds of wonderful. If feels all kinds of ‘that’s right, it’s about time’. Black women lead, get with it!
“She was such an amazing director to work with. I felt so protected, and having a third eye watch me and direct me and the choices that I made – that she and I made together – were just so awesome. It really served the vision of the film. This just speaks to their (Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele) being, so forward-thinking, so about handing the narrative to those who have been disenfranchised and to those who really really need to have their story out there. It’s all kinds of rightness happening right now.”
HB: How does it feel to return to the culture-favorite thriller with a new narrative that’s equally as terrifying?
“What’s so terrifying about this version is that it really brings out the part of the terror that Black people can’t leave the theatre and be out of danger. It calls into question; Are we safe in this society? Have we been? Can we be? And so while we go to the movies for escapism, we go and get scared, we see the monster kill the people and we know that those are actors and that those people weren’t really harmed in the making of that movie. That was effects and make believe, but the real terror of Candyman that Nia so brilliantly depicts from the puppetry, to all the ways that the story is told, and in a brilliant way that doesn’t re-traumatize the folks who been traumatized, but it tells that story, putting a little distance on it to make it more digestible. So that we don’t have to see bodies burned – because we know that. It’s in our DNA. It’s what we’re living. And we can’t escape it. We can’t leave the movie theatre and then that part of the movie is over. It’s not. And it’s unfortunate but so apropos that this movie was made before George Floyd. And after George Floyd this is still a prevalent and predominant issue that plagues our community. But the difference is, in the zeitgeist is the ability to have some real, meaningful conversations that call a thing a thing.”
HB: What stuck out to me was the casting that reflected dark-skin professionals who are prominent in their industries. A distinct difference from the first film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Anthony McCoy, a talented artist in the industry. Teyonah Parris plays Brianna Cartwright, McCoy’s girlfriend and an art gallery director. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett plays Troy Cartwright, Brianna’s brother. And Colman Domingo plays William Burke, a Cabrini Green resident who helps unfold the story of Candyman and Cabrini Green. All prominent roles played by actors with darker skin.
VW: “It speaks to a particular kind of aesthetic. Within our own community, the colorism, the white supremacy and false belief in white supremacy and this ideology takes root in the culture of the oppressed. All of us in the culture, and in the world – certainly in the country – are subject to that. So I’m with you, being a brown girl all my life, to have such divine representation of not just Black people but of brown skin Black people – as well in the positions and in the roles of the most lovely and beautiful and desirable in the Black professional setting. Just being completely representational. And that’s what happens when we are in charge of our narrative. That’s what happens when it’s intentional that we get the story right and we include all of us and all of our loveliness in all of our various shades and formations.”
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HB: It seems crazy for that to be something to noticed in a film, but it should be celebrated.
“It has to be celebrated because it’s all a part of the generational sort of racial violence against Black people. That whole thing, “if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back,” all of those things that are part of the country’s false belief in White supremacy. Jordan Peele, I love to quote him when he says, ‘the Candyman movie is about the eternal dance between monster and victim, and the history of racial violence in this country.’ And all of this is a part of it, from gentrification to colorism, to outright violence against Black men and women since we’ve gotten here. All of that is what this movie looks at, examines, questions, re-examines and put the focus on. It’s central to the question.”
If you haven’t watched Candyman yet, you’re in for a treat. This multifaceted film unpacks a different kind of terror that most Black folks can relate to. Taking the conversation to a larger platform, Colman Domingo moderated a roundtable discussion called Candyman: Impact of Black Horror that debuted on Twitter and is available on the Candyman Social Impact Initiative website, candymanmovie.com/impact. During the roundtable, Colman and experts discuss how Candyman goes beyond trauma to celebrate the resiliency and creativity of Black culture.