“I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom! Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. Come with me!” – Candyman, 1992
A transformative series I read while in college was Maus, a graphic novel series by Art Spiegelman that retells his father’s memories of living through the Holocaust. The experience of reading Maus was my first introduction to the concept of generational trauma – the idea that memories of the past can be transferred to people who may not have been present or even alive at the time of the traumatic events. I especially loved the idea that generational trauma can be expressed through a community’s stories and that, furthermore, art and literature might be the most effective way of understanding this phenomenon. It’s the reason that Candyman (1992) is one of my favorite films, and I very much anticipated Candyman (2021). More than just a malevolent supernatural killer, the character of Candyman is the manifestation of the consequences of systemic injustice.
Budding artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) lives in Chicago with his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), an art gallery director. It has been 30 years since the events of the first film. From what starts as exploration of the Cabrini-Green housing project to find artistic inspiration, McCoy becomes obsessed with the legend of Candyman. A figure with a hook arm, whose presence is often announced by bees and candy, Candyman can be summoned by anyone who says his name five times while looking in a mirror. In his research, McCoy learns the history of Candyman and the story of Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) – the main character from the first film – as well as his personal connection to Candyman. As McCoy seeks Candyman, Candyman emerges to haunt him in return with a persistence and vengeance that leaves a trail of blood in McCoy’s wake.
Candyman very much reminds me of a dream, not only because it is visually stunning but because, like a dream, there are multiple iterations of the same thing which are all equally true. During his research, McCoy discovers several Candyman origin stories, as well as conflicting accounts of the Helen Lyle story. Each of these stories has contributed to the existence of Candyman because, as Helen Lyle says, Candyman is generated by the collective subconscious of Cabrini-Green. In a sense, stories are the dream of humanity. They are the patterns we see in the world concentrated into common narratives and repeated over and over again until their truth or falsehood is unclear. In the case of Candyman, the dream is a nightmare of racial injustice.
The end credits include a shadow puppets montage depicting racial violence against Black people in the U.S. The montage is accompanied by melancholy instrumental music and is artistically minimal, yet reverent and powerful. Much like the original film, Candyman is raw, haunting, and cathartic in all the ways that we need a film like this to be. It is a film that speaks to the power of cinema to bring us face to face with truths that are intuitive to us, but that we may not be comfortable seeing in the mirror.
- Director: Nia DaCosta
- Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
- Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo
- Production Companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Monkeypaw Productions, Bron Creative
- Distributor: Universal Pictures