Yahya Abdul-Mateen II On How 'Candyman' Humanizes 'Unwilling Martyrs' of Black Lives Matter

Candyman began life as a character in a short story, before the first film about him 1992's Candyman, moved his story along as an urban legend who terrified the residents of a Chicago housing project.

While more films followed, the upcoming 2021 movie of the same name is a direct sequel to the first film, and was written by Jordan Peele, Nia DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld.

The story follows Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) an artist who becomes obsessed with the story of Candyman after trying to learn more about him for an upcoming project.

The same is true that, if you say the name of the Candyman five times into a mirror, he will appear, which leads to frightening consequences.

For Abdul-Mateen, this story goes further than the original in that it centers around the Black experience in a new way, with Black cast and crew at the center of the storytelling.

This time, saying the name of Candyman takes on a greater meaning as it alludes not only to the horror story, but to the modern-day horrors which have fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement.

Speaking to Newsweek, Abdul-Mateen said: "What this story does by centering around the Black experience, with a Black director and Black writers, is it gives us the opportunity to humanize the Candyman figure.

"And by doing that in the way that we do, I think we also humanize or give humanity to the Trayvon Martins, to the George Floyds, to the Breonna Taylors, to the individuals who have become figures for reasons that they would have never chosen. We know their names, when we actually should not know their names."

In fact, he goes as far to say they, like Candyman and his character Anthony McCoy, become "unwilling martyrs" to a story they do not wish to tell.

This is a "specific type of tragedy" which need not exist for these people, but the narrative is forced upon them.

Abdul Mateen said: "He [Anthony] did not choose to be put in that position, which makes it a different type of horror, a specific type of tragedy, you know, for a person like Anthony, who had nothing but his whole life ahead of him. Very ambitious, and as he's searching for himself, he steps into another version of himself that he would never have chosen to be willfully."

Candyman production still
Candyman production still
Candyman production still
Candyman production still
Candyman production still
Production stills from 2021 movie "Candyman".

In the 1992 movie, Candyman (Tony Todd) appears to Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) because she doubted his existence, wanting his legend to be maintained by those still living.

In one climactic scene in the 2021 movie, he tells another character to "tell everyone" what they have seen, still desiring for his story to remain alive.

This time the motivation seems to have switched. The new version, rather than maintaining the legend of Candyman, suggests his legend keeps alive the stories of those who were brutalized unfairly, bringing to light a systemic issue that goes beyond a horror movie.

Abdul-Mateen suggests this allows the Black community to take control of a narrative forced upon them, where they have been made into "monsters" by those oppressing them.

He continued: "In each of those individuals and individuals like them, they were turned into monsters, and they had their humanity taken away from them. So Candyman and the way that we are telling the story allows us to humanize their experiences, give them as well as Candyman more dignity in his death than he was given in the final moments of his life, I believe...

"I think it's important as creators to decide how we deal with our trauma, the stories of our trauma. So I think this, this film gives us the control over our narrative, over the story that's being told about us. Our history, our pains, our bodies."

For him, the seed of those thoughts is what he hopes will be taken away from the movie, as well as a conversation on what happens next.

Those conversations about Candyman is what he is most interested now, he says, rather than attempting to start a franchise, allowing this story to evolve.

He added: "I'm more interested in this moment and having the conversation go forward. That's what I'm interested in doing right now is, you know, letting the movie come out first and letting the movie do what it's gonna do.

"And then be a part of letting Candyman take a life of its own outside of the theatre, outside of myself and our creative team, being the people who are controlling the narrative. I think that is what I'm more interested in, to see the conversation while Candyman takes a life of its own."

Candyman is out in movie theaters on August 27