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Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Finds His Next Villain in ‘Candyman’

The ‘Aquaman’ star is especially suited for this role of a lifetime.
Aquaman Yahya Abdul Mateen Ii
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on February 28th, 2019

If the news is true that Jordan Peele‘s “spiritual sequel” to Candyman has found its leading man, then Yahya Abdul-Mateen II should be a very happy camper. Variety revealed that producers are mulling over putting the Aquaman villain front and center in their continuation of the horror classic.

Should negotiations prove fruitful, Abdul-Mateen will take over the role as one of the scariest and most enduring antagonists. First brought to life on the big screen by the excellent Tony Todd, the Candyman has haunted the uneasiest depths of our nightmares since the eponymous film’s release in 1992. After all, the original follows an especially bone-chilling baddie who doesn’t just go bump in the night.

Instead, the Bernard Rose-directed gem subverts expectations of the horror genre. In Candyman, concepts of slashers and final girls are not so simple. The wonderful Clive Barker adaptation introduces its protagonist — a well-meaning white female grad student named Helen — as she explores the purported doom and gloom of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects.

Along with a research partner, she investigates the violent fable haunting borne out of the racism of America’s past. However, Helen’s efforts to debunk the insidiously confronting myth fall short. The horrors that she encounters at Cabrini-Green — and just about everywhere when the titular character himself is finally “obliged to come” — are very real and just as tragic as they are petrifying.

Although no specific plot details for the Candyman sequel have been announced, the movie will take audiences back to Cabrini-Green in the modern day. This time, the housing projects have given way to a gentrified neighborhood, opening up new avenues to discuss instances of social inequality that hide in plain sight.

Of course, one might assume that calling upon the Candyman once more in any capacity would provide Todd the fresh opportunity for an iconic role reprisal. Who could ever forget that hypnotically silky voice?

Obviously, Abdul-Mateen’s casting does throw a wrench into that possibility, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. He even seems to have Todd’s blessing as the monumental torch passes:

Frankly, Abdul-Mateen’s involvement actually adds even more appeal to this already-splashy project. As one of Peele’s many producing efforts through his banner Monkeypaw, Candyman garners plenty of attention in a post-Get Out society by default. The film easily fits in as another example of Peele’s thought-provoking “social thrillers.”

Furthermore, Candyman also has the talents of promising rising star director Nia DaCosta at its disposal. Her feature debut, Little Woods, expertly walks the emotional tightrope of dread and empathy as it tells the tale of estranged sisters looking for clean slates. The Tessa Thompson-starrer is a searing look morally grey characters living life on the fringes, making DaCosta the perfect fit to get behind the camera for the return of the Candyman.

And with an intensely irresistible onscreen presence (and voice!) to call his own, Abdul-Mateen would be right at home with this generation of filmmakers on the Candyman set. As far as I’m concerned, he’s definitely one of those actors you catch a glimpse of in notable projects and wish was in everything else.

The Get Down, The Greatest Showman, Aquaman, and even the ridiculous Baywatch remake have each been buzzworthy in their own ways. On the horizon, Abdul-Mateen is even more prepared to rule screens big and small. He is slated to appear in Damon Lindelof’s highly-anticipated Watchmen pilot. Peele’s sophomore feature Us has a place for the actor, too.

For now, of all Abdul-Mateen’s released projects so far, The Get Down and Aquaman have offered him the most to do. In particular, the former — spawned from the vibrant, fantastical mind of Baz Luhrmann — lets his true charismatic energy fly free, as the vicious but undeniably stylish and magnetic gangster Cadillac.

Meanwhile, Aquaman relishes in its status as the ultimate feel-good superhero film. Honestly, playing Black Manta didn’t give Abdul-Mateen enough screentime to work his magic. That said, he still looks for pockets of nuance in James Wan’s goofy, entertaining DCEU effort. It’s thus a real joy to see Black Manta resurface in Aquaman‘s mid-credits scene, especially one that could have real weight in the movie’s confirmed 2022 sequel.

Clearly, Abdul-Mateen has already cut his teeth playing villains that legitimately stand out. He deserves a central role like Candyman to really shine brighter as an actor, though. As is the case for other Hollywood’s rising stars, the best roles can be found in genre cinema these days, putting him on the ideal track.

The unconventional hook-handed boogeyman donning a trenchcoat full of bees suits Abdul-Mateen’s strengths as a captivating character actor; someone that the audience can still root for in spite of their complicated or otherwise unsavory decisions.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)