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The Cycles of Violence That Haunt Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’

Candyman is more than a hook and a swarm of bees.
Candyman 2021
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on August 24th, 2021

Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. Today, we look at Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, depictions of trauma, and horror storytelling in the hands of Black creators.


Candyman is a slasher villain turned urban legend who has penetrated our cultural consciousness since the release of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film. Played by horror legend Tony Todd, the Candyman is covered in bees, has a hook for a hand, and terrorizes the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. He is more than a legend; he is a specter of racial trauma and violence at the hands of white patriarchal figures. 

Now, in her reboot/sequel, Nia DaCosta wants to further address the cycles of intergenerational trauma and violence that exist at the core of the Candyman story. In a recently released featurette promoting her Candyman, DaCosta says: 

“Candyman is so perennial. We’re talking about the cycles of violence and how history repeats itself and how we collectively process trauma through stories. It’s always time to tell a story like Candyman. Which is the big tragedy about the tale in the first place.”

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, DaCosta expands on that perspective, speaking about how Candyman’s story is not a one-time occurrence, but rather is indicative of deeper systemic issues surrounding race and socioeconomic status. She says:

“[These issues are] cyclical and every generation we have this violence, and it changes and it warps, and it shifts so it looks different. It’s all part of our history. So it definitely informed why we said, ‘OK, we’re going to take this Candyman legend and make it work for us a little bit more.’”

A New POV for the Candyman Story

While Bernard Rose’s 1992 film touches on issues of race, it is ultimately told from a white perspective. By both Rose and his main character, Helen (Virginia Madsen). Now, DaCosta and Jordan Peele, who co-wrote and produced the new movie, want to shift that narrative and place it in the hands of Black characters. DaCosta says:

“When I came on, it was really important to me that we do more with the legend. And make it expansive. I think it was fun to me that we shoot the POV with less Helen but a lot more of the Black experience.”

Candyman star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II echoes DaCosta’s sentiment in a recent interview with Digital Spy. He says: 

“I’m really happy that this film is talking about the subject of unwilling martyrs and the trauma placed on the bodies of the Black community and the trauma within the Black experience at the hands of white violence and what we can do with that.”

Abdul-Mateen plays the film’s protagonist, Anthony McCoy, a struggling artist who looks to the Candyman legend for inspiration. He and his girlfriend have recently moved into the gentrified neighborhood where the Cabrini-Green housing projects once stood. He digs further into the history of Candyman and his own past growing up in Cabrini-Green, Anthony begins to unravel. 

DaCosta also brings her own childhood experiences and fears of the Candyman to the project. In the featurette, she explains:

“Candyman was a real urban legend for me as a kid, it wasn’t just attached to the movie. For us, Candyman was a demon ghost man killing people in the projects.” 

With DaCosta’s reimagining, the man with the hook hand will be more than a name to say in the mirror. He will embody the spirit that haunts gentrified neighbors and screams about the trauma inflicted on the Black body in the name of white progress.

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman buzzes into theaters this Friday.

Mary Beth McAndrews thinks found footage is good and will fight you if you say otherwise. When she's not writing, she's searching for Mothman with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @mbmcandrews. (She/Her)