When I first heard that Jordan Peele was producing a new Candyman, I talked to a good friend about it. I remember him mentioning that he hoped Tony Todd would take up the hook again, and I told him that wouldn’t work.
“The perceived transgression that created him was against white sexual purity,” I said, “so in order for the character to work, Candyman has to be sexually magnetic. I love Tony Todd, and I hope he shows up somehow, but he’s done his time playing the monster.” It would seem that the filmmakers agree with me: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II with his chiseled features and electric charisma is the perfect choice for the lead.
Black Horror is exploding right now. The influence of authors like Tananarive Due and Eden Royce, podcasts like The Night Light, and scores of short-story authors who are not only breaking into horror fiction markets, but finding and befriending each other means that black folks—and especially black women—in the SF field are producing more and better horror than ever before.
A few weeks ago, a trailer for the Jordan Peele produced Candyman appeared. The film was slated to come out this June, but of course the Quarantine has delayed it indefiitely. I’ve known of the new movie for maybe a year now, and I’ve been cautiously excited to see it. Jordan Peele has been doing some great work in the horror genre since the end of his sketch show, but not everything he’s done has been an unqualified success—especially as an executive producer as opposed to a director and performer. (While, for instance, The Twilight Zone was a solid outing, Weird City was a genuine chore to watch.) Still, I would say that the most important thing he’s done is renegotiate the relationship between blackness and horror. The film’s director, Nia Dacosta, as far as I know, is the first black woman to direct a major horror release, and I’m ready to welcome her with open arms. Black women bring an essential sensibility to horror, and I often find that the way women like Octavia Butler, Nisi Shawl, and Chesya Burke use horror even in stories that are not intended as Dark Fantasy reveal facets of the genre that lesser practitioners wouldn’t otherwise know to look for.
Candyman is one of those pictures that has remained close to my heart ever since I first saw it as a child. When I first watched it, I was far too young to understand many of its themes, but I enjoyed it for its creepy atmosphere, for the fact that it was set primarily in a housing project, and because it had a movie monster that looked like me. This was long before I learned of Blacula, of Ganja and Hess, of any black horror. Even The Serpent and the Rainbow, another horror flick dear to my heart, had a white man for its main character. Candyman was fronted by a white woman, but something about it still turned my head, and I know now that it was because Candyman’s origin story struck a chord in me. In the film, Candyman is the victim of a lynching. After sleeping with a white patron’s daughter, he was beaten, mutilated, covered in honey and stung by bees.
The film forces the audience to look at American history and race relations from an unusual angle. It was as if the suburban paranoia of Halloween, of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of Friday the 13th had combined to produce something new. Something that explained where the fear that the suburban American dream was paid for with the blood of innocents. Now the shadows lurking in the minds of affluent whites weren’t just metaphorically black, and they would not be easily dismissed.
One of the reasons I’m so interested in this new movie is that this time around, the main character is a black man. Moreover it seems that his identity is at least partially compromised by Candyman and his bloody past. Every black person living in America knows what it’s like to be haunted by the specters of slavery, of social and political disenfranchisement, and of the avarice of the White Gaze. From the few details visible in the trailer, I feel that unlike the two earlier sequels to the original, this new Candyman is bringing something fresh and vital to the conversation.
When I was finishing up my undergrad degree, I wrote a term paper about the legacy of Blacula and the fact that Candyman never could have existed if not for him. I am not-so-patiently waiting for Blacula to rise from his grave to stalk the night again, but in the mean time, I’m excited to see Candyman return. I don’t know whether the new movie will be any good, but when it finally comes out, I’ll be there on opening night to find out for sure.
Writer/editor Alex Jennings lives in Central City, New Orleans–right around the corner from the Leathers Mansion and its slave quarters… Check him out at www.alexjennings.net