The Candyman reboot is a comprehensive media package, not just a movie, and the main problem is it doesn’t need to be. A two minute trailer covers most of the movie’s ground.
Cabrini-Green, Chicago, 2019- 30 years after the events of the first Candyman movie have passed into Chicago legend, Cabrini-Green is in the midst of a renaissance, with new luxury residential towers rising above what remains of the projects. Struggling painter Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) wanders the slums looking for inspiration and stumbles on the legend of Candyman – a mixture of the stories of Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), who is credited as becoming Candyman after being murdered by police and carrying out attacks that viewers will be familiar with as the work of Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) from the original films. Looking into the story of Candyman, McCoy is swallowed by the dark chasm of the history of lynchings in Chicago and across the U.S.
At its most basic, Candyman is a vague satire of the commodification of black pain. McCoy’s work is dismissed as derivative and outdated by critics and peers, and artists like him are blamed for gentrifying old redlined neighborhoods, even as he dives deeper into the horror of Fields’ story and the overwhelming torrent of modern lynchings and the redlining and further-back expressions of systemic racism that make them possible. Much of it is pulled quite believably from headlines about police murders of black men, including the incorporation of “say his name,” a common hashtag following one of these killings, as a tagline and a point of horror within the narrative – saying his name, in this case, will get you killed.
But Candyman, like McCoy’s paintings, is more interested in being multimedia social commentary than a movie, to the point that the shadow puppet advertisement campaign and McCoy’s giant portraits of brutalized lynching victims, put together by real-life artists Cameron Spratley, Sherwin Ovid, Arnold Kemp and possibly others – Spratley is the only one who appears in the credits, for some reason – distinctly overshadow the film itself-
The whole thing positions Candyman as sort of an inverted black Santa Claus, a myth told to children to explain lynchings, most notably by incorporating the real lynchings of James Byrd, Jr. and George Stinney, Jr. and setting Field’s and Robitaille’s stories as equivalent to them.
I don’t know about any of this. I don’t know about the ethical math behind setting fictional, albeit completely believable, lynchings as equivalent to things that really happened.
More importantly, I don’t know if the commodification of black pain Candyman seems to be about is really happening anymore. There’s certainly media about it, which is certainly commodified – we live in a capitalist world, and tickets to Candyman aren’t free either – but they’re much more proportionately owned by the black community itself. Candyman comes in the midst of a storm of black horror stories, and writer/producer Jordan Peele is the tip of the spear on that. His Get Out, along with complementary works like Us and Antebellum, are much more comprehensive expressions of these fears, and there are also much more thorough satires of the art world, such as Netflix’ Velvet Buzzsaw.
Candyman seems like a movie for a very different time, and it was. Production ran August to September 2019, meaning it was made quite literally for a world that hadn’t watched George Floyd be crushed to death on the street, nor the summer of worldwide protest that followed, nor Donald Trump’s violent clearing of Lafayette Square for a photo op, nor a mob littered with known white supremacists try to overthrow the U.S. government.
If Candyman’s message is to take this all more seriously than we did in the summer of 2019, we’ve moved a bit past that.