By MARIAM BASTANI and CAROLYN MAURICETTE
For the first time, a Black female director, Nia DaCosta, has the #1 film at the box office, and during a pandemic, no less! As a Black woman directing her second feature film – a horror film – that’s a big deal, and one that has been overshadowed because of Jordan Peele’s involvement as producer and co-writer. This feat has lead to much verbal sparring in film circles. Some critics came out of the gate with in-depth, well-reasoned analysis, dissecting the imagery presented in this much-hyped sequel to the 1992 classic, Candyman by Bernard Rose. Some focused on representation, finding elements both to celebrate and castigate in Nia DaCosta’s vision. On the troublesome side, some Black critics’ reviews are being used to support views that non-black critics are afraid to voice without fully understanding their implications or context. It’s a mixed bag out there, but the overall discourse is getting more eyes on DaCosta’s competent work, which is a good thing.
It’s hard to see critics who don’t like horror or aren’t well versed in the dynamics of horror talk about CANDYMAN. Horror has never been one-dimensional, so when it’s critiqued as being not scary enough, too scary, too political, or not political enough, it’s hard to take these views seriously. Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is multi-dimensional and intersectional, just like horror itself, the director, and the people the film represents. We want to hear more Black voices in horror, so we sought out four Black reviewers to answer a handful of questions about Candyman. Warning: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. For more of their thoughts and reviews from Black critics, check out the links below!
What do you think of Nia DaCosta’s reinterpretation of the Candyman mythology?
Xero Gravity: I’m down with the expansion of the CANDYMAN lore, it’s got to be one of my favorite aspects of DaCosta’s installment. After the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think about what kind of pain, terror, and torment each previous Candyman had experienced, and what made them succumb to the bees. If the Candyman phenomenon has persisted since the 1800s, there should be lots more to uncover there. I hope we get to see these stories on the big screen someday in the future as well.
Mark O Estes: It’s timely. It opens the doors for further exploration of this mythology by walking through the looking glass and giving the viewer another gaze, through the Black lens, of this character. That’s the beauty of DaCosta’s CANDYMAN. Instead of just walking up to the mirror, it walks through it.
Ryan Kinney: The new film’s reinterpretation of the singular Candyman as a “whole damn hive” was a brilliant (and unfortunate) reflection of the many Black lives lost due to racism spanning across several generations. This new mythos is closer to reality which makes the horror more visceral. My only wish was for the Black lives lost who weren’t straight cis-gendered men to be acknowledged as well.
Ivotres Littles: I think the reinterpretation of the CANDYMAN mythology is frighteningly perfect. This is the shock we needed to see in the world. Candyman wasn’t a figment of imagination; a story told over and over again to scare people. He was the wide-eyed truth. He was the suffering of years of accusations [against Black people].
What is your favorite kill scene from any of the CANDYMAN films?
Xero Gravity: I’ve quickly changed up my ranking, putting Finley’s body being dragged across the window of her Chicago apartment (with elegance and grace) right up to #1 with ease. It was both beautiful and angry.
Mark O Estes: This is hard, but I would say it’s a tie between Octavia’s death in Farewell to the Flesh and Xavier’s death in the original. I have a lot of fave kills in the new movie but don’t want to spoil it lol.
Ryan Kinney: Favorite kill scene from any of the CANDYMAN films? Mine is from the new [one] which really brings the kills (18 to be exact). Without being too spoilerific, I gotta go with the final killing spree. High count, high gore, and even higher catharsis.
Ivotres Littles: My favorite kill is in the CANDYMAN 2021. When Anthony runs out of the curator’s house and the camera pulls away from the apartment as we watch her get mutilated by Candyman.
What are your thoughts on the expectations and pressures of telling Black stories in horror?
Xero Gravity: The stakes are always high for Black horror subgenre, no matter the background of the viewer. There’s a general balance of cultural accuracy, and genre specifics that horror “Blerds” look for, which we rarely get unless the filmmakers accurately represent us. At this point in the Black horror renaissance, it’s wise to expect that this balance might not hit as hard with other audiences by way of ignorance, or just lack of exposure to Black cultural values. Telling a story from Black and Brown perspectives shouldn’tbe debatable in this way. Jordan Peele has verbalized the importance of making Black horrorfor Black people first, and I think folks should keep this in mind when writing their critiques, and reading others as well. So, either get with it or get lost, because it’s not always about you.
Mark O Estes: It’s a catch-22, especially with the new fans of horror trying to reclaim what Black horror is and isn’t without doing much research. Most people don’t understand that Black horror didn’t start with Jordan Peele’s Get Out. It’s always had a racial undertone whether blatantly, [as in] Tales from the Hood, or even through allegory. Tananarive Due said it beautifully in Horror Noire, “Black history is Black horror.” So it makes sense for a lot of Black creators to want to explore that angle with their stories, whether [it’s] personal to them or commentary about being Black in America as a whole. With that being said, execution is key. I always say that every movie has a plot, but it’s the execution of said plot or idea that matters. And this is where the balancing act lies. I would be wary to tell a Black horror creator that their story doesn’t matter, or is Black “trauma porn” because it is rooted in racism. There’s room for tons of Black horror content, whether it’s rooted in racism or if it’s just an original horror tale told by Black people.
Ryan Kinney: Black stories in horror face scrutiny from mostly white critics, who don’t understand our culture, and snubs from the Academy for much the same reason: the white gaze. CANDYMAN (2021) does a great job exploring those unfair expectations and the crippling effects of that pressure on the artist as Anthony struggles to have his work as a Black artist understood by white curators and critics.
Ivotres Littles: My thoughts on the expectations and pressures of telling Black stories in horror is [that it’s] an uphill battle. To decide what to leave in and what to take out, will this entertain and tell the truth about our society or leave an unpleasant mark? Will this shorten your career or empower the community? The pressure is great but the reward is even greater.
Do you care about the opinions of critics who aren’t fans of the horror genre?
Xero Gravity: Not a single damn.
Mark O Estes: No, because there’s a historical snobbery when it comes to “normie” critics reviewing horror. To them, horror is inferior. This is why we have horror movie critics to counter that narrative.
Ryan Kinney: Nope!
Ivotres Littles: Yes. In the end, normies are the ones who invest in the horror movie industry.
Follow our round table participants at the following links:
Angelica Jade Bastién
Candyman Is a Soulless, Didactic Reimagining
Candyman Is Sweet (and Sour for Black Women)