Candyman (2021)

Steven Barnes
7 min readAug 30, 2021

CANDYMAN (2021)

is Nia DaCosta’s conversation with the original 1992 classic. You know the story: in 1870, freed slave Daniel Robitaille (the amazing Tony Todd) was an artist who fell in love with a white woman. Her father had him tortured, mutilated and killed, his left hand replaced with a hook. Say his name five times while looking in the mirror, the story goes, and he will return and seek vengeance.

I loved the original, but knew it was black pain for white viewers (even in terms of the production, where the wonderful Tony Todd was paid a bonus for every time a bee stung his mouth. We were watching REAL black pain simulating FAKE black pain for the pleasure of audiences secretly appalled by the notion of miscegenation and eager to release that tension with fiction), the black man who was foolish enough to touch a white woman transformed into a monster as a morality play, an example of what not to do. And Lordy, did they lean into that imagery. “Be my victim” meant “be my love” and when College student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) researches him, she slides down a rabbit hole of death and madness, all of it plausibly metaphorical warning for black men and white women to stay away from each other.

HOW could I love a film which, at its core, was so problematic? Because in a sane world, with proportional representation, it would have been simply one of a spectrum of images rather than a sour note white America loves to play.

Now, DaCosta has done something remarkable: taken this problematic (but hugely entertaining) fable and reinterpreted it to fit the “black gaze.” The results are unmistakably NOT the original. This Candyman has what David Cronenberg labeled dangerous in VIDEODROME: it has a philosophy. It has a perspective on what happens to a dream deferred, or more specifically what happens when the past collides with the present. Arguably, for 400 years the truth of race relations has been obscured. The Civil War asked if blacks were human. The civil rights movement asked if we were citizens. But post 2000 the question has been the REAL one: “are they equal?”

I mean really, fundamentally equal. Not “under the law” or “in the eyes of God” but actually…equal.

About a third of the country is very uncomfortable with that question, which will tell you what percentage believes the answer is “no.” Because if we are actually equal in worth and capacity, you have to ask some very uncomfortable reasons about how tilted and mined the…

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.