‘Candyman’ and the Importance of On-Screen Black Positivity

So it’s August 24, 2021. Well, obviously not today, unless I finally caught a time traveler in the act, but that was the day I saw Candyman in theaters. Which for the sake of this article, is a very important date.

So to recap, it’s August 24, 2021. The sun is beaming bright, sweltering rays on the people of Phoenix, Arizona. Like my SPF-savvy former neighbors, I was used to it. Still, I felt an immense sense of comfort as I walked into the air conditioned doors of the movie theater.

I was there with a horror movie sweet tooth, one that could only be satisfied by one promising feature; Candyman.

Directed by Nia DaCosta, and written by DaCosta and Jordan Peele (also produced by Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions), Candyman is a sequel and a fresh pump of life into the classic title of the same name.

Thought both “Candymen” are horror movies, with similar discussions on racial segregation and gentrification, the recent entry left a more mixed taste in the mouths of audiences. As opposed to the original’s sweet sensation of “cult favorite” honey.

Even after seeing it myself, I didn’t exactly love it. Many of the film’s ideas were agreeable, but it didn’t feel like the film was very sold on them in the first place. The biggest flaw I had with Candyman was that it felt too focused on trauma, on that heartbreak of a torn-apart community, and didn’t save much time to focus on the community itself.

Too often the default for Black experience on screen is Black pain. It is important that we bring attention to the years of trauma that lies within the African American community. But it’s equally vital that we’re reminded that there is much more to Black life than the pain we’ve endured. A point that I’m aware DaCosta and Peele both agree with, but one I personally found lacking in the subject matter.

(L to R): Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nia DaCosta,| Photo by Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures – © 2020 Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures. All Rights Reserved. CANDYMAN TM MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

That being said, Candyman is by no means a failure. The film crushed the box office opening weekend, and made Nia DaCosta the first Black, female director to achieve the #1 spot. A bittersweet title that reflects the ongoing discussion found in Candyman. Are we (Black people) loved just for our art, and not for who we are? The short answer is “almost always yes.” And that’s tragic.

Tragic because it is so very apparent that Black culture is treated as merchandise. Yet it is also apparent that Black life is worth much more than a price tag.

Going back to August 24, 2021. The theater was packed. Mind you, we’re still in a panoramic, so masks and worries were abundant.

Please get vaccinated, by the way.

Every row from top to bottom was at least half full, the crowd made up of press, rewards members and sweepstakes winners. The chatter was loud, until the opening credits rolled on screen and the lights dimmed. On came Candyman, and the theater, though quiet, every so often erupted into sounds of screams and laughter.

After watching the movie, I struggled to explain exactly what it was missing for me. I knew that sense of community wasn’t there, but what does that mean? What was the missing piece?

Looking back at my theater experience, I realize now that what Candyman so desperately needed more of was ironically staring it right in the face. The laughter, the screams, the whispered comments silently echoing across the theater. These were the sounds of community. Noises that come packaged with a warm, fuzzy feeling of love and life.

I imagined the thousands of people in other theaters getting to experience the same thing. I imagined the hundreds of thousands more at home, practicing safe panini virtual viewing, bundled in front of their television set to watch Candyman when it eventually makes it’s way to streaming.

Candyman, though flawed, is still a film about the Black experience. Its characters, especially protagonists Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris), do a wonderful job displaying the shared experience of being treated as an art project.

The film boasts Black characters full of life, with strong ties to the community of Cabrini Green and the culture of Black America. The issue is that those ties are never allowed to flourish. As I saw a community come together to enjoy Candyman, I felt that bittersweet joy sink in as I longed to see more of this community, this culture, displayed with positivity on screen.