Vanessa Estelle Williams: ‘Candyman’ depicts the narrative of the victims

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Vanessa Estelle Williams, who reprised her 1992 role in Candyman, said the 2021 film, which hits theatres on Friday, was shot from the victims’ point of view.

“We’re speaking to a whole intergenerational system of trauma and violence,” Williams told UPI in a phone interview. “It’s the history of America.”

Candyman is a Black supernatural killer who stalks urban cities. The Candyman in 1992 was Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd, who also appears in the new film). The son of a slave in late 1800s New Orleans, Robitaille was lynched for his love affair with a white woman.

In 1992, residents of the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago could summon the Candyman by saying his name five times in a mirror. He would appear and kill the speaker with the hook he had in place of his right hand.

Anne-Marie McCoy (Williams) was one of the Cabrini-Green residents. When a new Candyman terrorizes modern-day Cabrini-Green, Anne-Marie warns the new inhabitants to take him seriously.

“She knew from her experience that it wasn’t a legend,” Williams said. “It was an actual fact of her life and one that she worked so hard to recover from.”

The 1992 film was based on the Clive Barker short story, The Forbidden. Bernard Rose wrote and directed it. The new film is co-written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. DaCosta also directed.

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Williams, 58, said the new filmmakers used Candyman to address how racial violence begets more violence. The new Candyman is another Black man who fell victim to racial violence. Williams recalled Peele’s take on the film.

“He says the center of this movie is about the eternal dance between monster and victim, and the racial history of this country,” Williams said.

Police violence is one topic the new film incorporates. DaCosta’s film also addresses how modern-day Cabrini-Green became a gentrified suburb in which artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) lives with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris).

“Nia talked about gentrification as another form of violence against the community,” Williams said. “[A street] goes from being Malcolm X Boulevard to being David Bowie Drive.”

Universal Pictures, which is releasing Candyman, also made a discussion of racial violence part of the film’s marketing. Viewers can visit www.candymanmovie.com/impact and view a roundtable talk in which experts on social issues, mental health and horror movies discuss how Candyman addresses Black culture.

“For me, the way the movie talks about the whole history of violence against Black men and the Black community is the most horrifying thing,” Williams said. “It’s the thing that’s haunting and the thing that’s really real.”

Williams said she hopes a fictional horror movie like Candyman can illuminate these social issues for audiences. She said the apparition with the hook is scary, but his motivations stem from the real world.

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“We can leave the movie theater and know that a man with a hook isn’t necessarily going to come and rip you open,” Williams said. “But these systems of racism that are in place are something that we have to navigate.”

Williams said she was not even sure Universal would reveal she was in the new film, since having her character appear would offer clues for the fans. So, Williams said, she was pleased when trailers included a moment of Anne-Marie shushing Anthony before he can say Candyman’s name.

“I think the Candyman fans know exactly what’s going on,” Williams said. “They recognize everything.”

Anne-Marie’s final moment leaves her future in question. Williams said at the end of her scene with Anthony, Anne-Marie’s stability is in question.

“She’s about to lose it,” Williams said. “She’s going to completely collapse, so I don’t know what happens to her.”

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