How Candyman 2021 Fits Into Today’s World

Historically, the horror genre has included films that offer pointed socio-political commentary under the guise of outlandish monsters and supernatural curses. Look no further than the 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for veiled commentary on McCarthyism, or the 1982 David Cronenberg film “Videodrome” for an ahead-of-its-time examination about how technology can take over society; or George A. Romero’s zombie classic “Night of the Living Dead” for a metaphorical representation of the tumultuous year of 1968.

In recent years, leading the charge on these socially-and politically-aware horror movies is Jordan Peele. He jumped from the hilarious sketch show “Key & Peele” to the now-famous films “Us” and “Get Out” — both of which offer some of the most pointed commentary on systemic racism and social inequality of the century. 

His next project, which he wrote and executive produced, is a “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 cult horror classic “Candyman” — a film that he cites as having the most impact on his career.

How the 2021 Candyman Is Connected to the Original

The 1992 “Candyman” is based on a short story entitled “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker. It tells the story of a graduate student, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who learns of the urban Candyman legend. The Candyman (Tony Todd) is a murderous specter who appears upon being summoned five times by name; he kills the summoner with his hook hand. Helen decides to write her thesis about how the residents of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago use the legend to overcome hardship. 

But the legend turns out to be true. The Candyman is the son of a slave who had been hired to paint a white woman. He falls in love with her, and together they conceive a child. When the woman’s father finds out, he orders a lynch mob to attack the Candyman. The mob cuts off his hand, burns his corpse and scatters his ashes around the Cabrini-Green area. Later in the story, the Candyman takes Helen as his victim when she sacrifices herself to save a baby from a fiery death.

When the 2021 film was announced, MGM and Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions called it a “spiritual sequel” to the original, taking place in the now-gentrified Cabrini-Green area. Peele said in a statement that the original “was a landmark film” and he is excited to bring a new chapter to the story, especially because rising talent Nia DaCosta (“Little Woods”) is directing this entry in the “Candyman” world.

The original was a landmark film for black representation in the horror genre,” said Peele in a press release. “Alongside ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ ‘Candyman’ was a major inspiration for me as a filmmaker — and to have a bold new talent like Nia at the helm of this project is truly exciting. We are honored to bring the next chapter in the Candyman canon to life and eager to provide new audiences with an entry point to Clive Barker’s legend.

They Changed the Story by Changing the Protagonist

The sequel centers on Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a young artist who may be the young baby saved in the 1992 original. The Candyman begins to haunt Anthony after he moves to the gentrified Cabrini-Green neighborhood.

In conversation with Empire’s Syfy Wire, Peele said that he found “Candyman” particularly challenging because of the idea of a Black villain.

“I think the reason I love the original ‘Candyman’ is, for better or worse, it broke us out of the box. A Black monster was pretty revolutionary. If there was no ‘Candyman,’ I don’t know that there would be a ‘Get Out’,” said Peele in the June 2020 issue. But he added,

How do I tell a story with a Black villain in a world that has exhausted the villainization of Black people? And yet, this is a piece of representation I crave as a horror fan. And in the past, when we were made monster, it was a monster without empathy. For this monster, Tony Todd built a character that was a force, and had a charisma, and gave me a sense of power as opposed to a feeling of otherness.

Similarly, DaCosta felt that it was important to change the lens through which the film would be seen. While the original did feature a Black villain, the protagonist was a white woman. DaCosta wanted to change that for the sequel.

“There is definitely a sense of taking ownership, and telling a Black story about Black people,” said DaCosta. “It was very important for all of us to have our main character be Black, and for this experience to be through the Black lens. Let’s make sure we change the lens now.”

The Original Candyman’s Role is Being Kept Under Wraps

It’s not entirely clear how involved Todd is in the reboot of “Candyman.” But, we do know that he is excited about it. In fact, in the most recent teaser trailer, he can be heard saying, “Tell everyone.”

And in an August 2020 interview with Movie Web, Todd had quite a lot to say about the film: 

I think we’re going to be surprised about how many things have changed in 30 years, and how many things have stayed the same. … So we have a new way of looking at it for an entirely new generation,” says Todd, adding, “I know for a fact that is gonna be one of the most accepted and received horror films in a while. Right now, we’re in a great moment. People are hungry, right? … I think people are gonna be proud to see the character and the story continue.

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