The myth, the legend and the Black canon of Candyman began with its first theatrical release in 1992. The original film follows a white graduate student looking into the way urban legends intersect with crime in Black communities. While investigating, she disrespects the myth and calls the spirit's name in the mirror five times – inadvertently inviting herself into the story.
Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele revitalized the franchise with their installment released Aug. 27, expanding the story's legend and focusing on the history of Black male bodies and white terror. DaCosta dares the moviegoers to speak the name, which acts as a placeholder for a long list of Black men slain by white supremacists and police officers.
The film was originally slated for release in June 2020 — at the height of protesting throughout the country, just weeks after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police. The film is like a mirror reflecting the Black Lives Matter movement as it challenges viewers to remember Black humanity and to fight against white supremacy.
The generations of people who grew up watching the original film have built their own urban legend, refusing to say his name in the mirror even decades later. Because of the generational community's connection to Candyman, DaCosta found it necessary to push back her film’s release again in September 2020 due to the pandemic.
“We made Candyman to be seen in theaters. Not just for the spectacle but because the film is about community and stories—how they shape each other, how they shape us. It’s about the collective experience of trauma and joy, suffering and triumph, and the stories we tell around it," she said in a tweet. “We wanted the horror and humanity of Candyman to be experienced in a collective, a community, so we’re pushing Candyman to next year, to ensure that everyone can see the film, in theaters, and share in that experience,” she continued.
These tweets are no longer visible as DaCosta has since deleted her account.
As a sequel to the 1992 film, the film picks up in present day: about a decade after the tearing down of the Cabrini Green public housing buildings, where the original film was set. Protagonist Anthony McCoy and his partner, living in the now gentrified apartments, learn of the spirit who once haunted the area. Inspired by the story, the artist begins to dig deeper into legend in order to create more visceral art for his upcoming show. Instead, the line between imitation and art blur as the body count rises.
This sequel excels in telling a more complex story, because it begins to truly examine who Candyman is. In the original, the titular character is a secondary one, and it spends more time focusing on the affluent grad student. The sequel doesn’t shy away from critiques that fans and critics had about the original — with characters occasionally addressing them blatantly. DaCosta's film subverts the pitfalls of the original and brings a freshness to the franchise that is rooted in history and respect.
What didn’t work
Anthony's conversion begins much too early in the plot. Audiences don’t get a chance to understand him as a character before his motivations are blurred by the presence of Candyman. In a story that is meant to humanize Candyman, the audience is left to grasp at humanity from the supporting characters played by Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.
Favorite line: “Nope.”
Teyonah Parris’s character says it as she considers walking downstairs into a dark basement, and the line feels authentic to the moment. Jordan Peele’s upcoming horror project is also titled Nope. I don't know if this was intentional, but it made me smile.
Challenging viewers to self-reflect, Candyman is a contemporary take on a cult that classic audiences grew up fearing. With Jordan Peele producing, the film adds another cultural gem to his body of work that examines how race and the policing of Black bodies historically function in the U.S. It complicates the legend of the first film by examining the humans behind the legend. Candyman is not just one man — but a horde of Black men made nameless in communal memory. In Candyman, DaCosta dares us to remember them.