A.I

Candyman is horror’s ultimate antihero

Nia DaCosta’s audacious reboot of Candyman took some liberties with the source material. Some of those liberties were less than popular with the moviegoing population. Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastien called the film “soulless” and “didactic.” My regular co-host, Jonah Ray, thought the movie needed more scares. But audiences approved, as Candyman got people out to the theaters during uncertain times.

So, where’s the disconnect? Can Candyman both be too obvious and not obvious enough? What does a film based on a previous work with complicated ideas about race have to say about Blackness in 2021?

This week’s episode of Galaxy Brains features me and guest host Maggie Mae Fish talking to writer, academic, and horror expert Tananarive Due about Candyman, its legacy, and the state of the Black horror sub-genre.

As usual, this conversation has been edited and condensed to be less weird.

Dave: I want to go back to what you brought up earlier, which is that the Candyman character, Daniel Robitaille, is in many ways sympathetic, especially to Black audiences who are thinking about the persecution that we suffer, thinking about the power fantasy that you so rarely got to see in 1992. For Black audiences, power fantasies like James Bond and Superman and Batman were white characters doing those things that made white audiences feel excited and thrilled and that they could live vicariously through these strong characters. Candyman is a villain. I mean, Candyman is killing people. But at the same time, there is that feeling and it’s really explicitly expressed in the third act of this new movie, of the righteousness of the character. Do you think that it’s acceptable to read this movie as a power fantasy, or are we skirting the line of morality a little bit by rooting for him?

Tananarive: I see it as a course correction, frankly. This film is a course correction from the original, because there are so many scenes that Black audiences did not ask for. They did not ask for him to have a background as a lynching victim. But if you’re going to do that, of course, you’re going to establish empathy from Black audiences. Now, where some black audiences lost track in the first Candyman is that he was attacking people in Cabrini Green. Is it fair to feel like you’re rooting for Candyman? I think some audience members were rooting for Candyman in the original for sure. He’s our monster. But he was killing some people who really did nothing to him and didn’t deserve it.

The new film by Nia DqCosta is is basically a woke Candyman, right? You take Candyman from sort of this amoral kind of figure, like he’s just going to kill indiscriminately if you conjure him. You kind of bring it on yourself literally, if you’re going to conjure him. But in this version, Candyman doesn’t just represent the original artist who is lynched in the original. He also represents other victims of police brutality or lynching or attacks through history. It’s like very much that “say their names” mentality that you want to honor and remember those who have suffered. And he’s become kind of a general figure symbolizing that suffering over generations. Tony Todd is in this very briefly, but what a scene stealer at the end of the movie with just one line: “Tell everyone,” which I swear gives me goosebumps every time I see it. Candyman has been weaponized, I think, as you put it, as an avenging angel, and not just because he’s Black, but because he has a point of view and because he has a purpose that is more defined, I think, than it was in the original.

Dave: I want to ask you about other classic horror monsters, especially ‘80s slasher monsters. I’m so fascinated by the fact that characters like Jason and Freddy become fodder for toys and lunchboxes and, you know, cartoons and video games and all the stuff that seems to miss the point of the slasher movie, which is to be afraid of the monster. The monster becomes this kind of fun cartoon character who just murders indiscriminately. Candyman is so much more than that to me. And I think, to you as well. Candyman is not just a monster. Candyman is an avenging angel or Candyman is the spirit of the neighborhood, or Candyman is representative of Black trauma across generations. But why is it that audiences, particularly white audiences, took these villains and made them heroes, or at least merchandising opportunities, whereas Candyman is this character that has this tragic backstory and you root for him and that didn’t translate into the same kind of pop culture mania that that followed Freddy Krueger?

Tananarive: You know, that’s a very good question. There could be a lot of reasons for that. Some of it could be just from the very idea that Freddy Krueger did become more of a joke over the course of those sequels. I mean, it’s hard to believe that he was as scary as he was in the original by the time you get to some of those sequels. And I don’t think Candyman was ever softened in the same way by his sequels. I don’t think the sequels were particularly good.

Dave: Yeah, we don’t talk about Farewell to the Flesh in this family. No, sir.

Tananarive: But he wasn’t a fun monster in the same way. And it also could be, frankly, because he was Black and you know that it’s just going to be a little bit tougher to get a Black face on a lunchbox, even if it’s a monster from a popular movie. But that’s just guessing at this point. I think for Black audiences, they were so afraid. I can’t imagine the idea of walking around with a lunchbox. It’s not appealing.

Dave: That might change soon enough. I think after this movie, people might start putting Candyman on things.

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