Art critique

Review: Candyman falls for his own spin-off critique of race and class

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in a scene from Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.Parrish Lewis / Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures / The Associated Press

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Realized by Nia DaCosta

Written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta

Featuring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo

Classification R, 91 minutes

Available in theaters August 27

In an age when film and television continue to advance what can only be called the Jordan Peele Industrial Complex – where we remember with every news article and marketing copy the writer-director’s involvement in everything. project that he watches so much – where does the influence end and where does paternity begin?

This question was on the minds of many before Nia DaCosta’s 2021 review of the ’90s horror classic, Candy. The trailer was promising, and combined with the film’s long-delayed release, it was easily one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Produced and co-written by Peele, her credits on the new title eclipsed the work of the film’s own director, DaCosta – an example of a phenomenon that is all too familiar to many black women.

That’s why it’s hard for me not to want to give DaCosta, a relatively fresh filmmaker here just on his second feature film, the benefit of the doubt. I wonder in what ways, in the stormy confluence of production politics, industry power, and a marketing strategy so determined to center Peele’s contributions, his vision has been realized.

The original Candy film, written and directed by Bernard Rose and based on a story by Clive Barker (the pen behind the 1987s Hellraiser), remains a benchmark film for horror audiences – especially black horror fans. Her whispered meditations on race, class, gender, and gentrification were crafted both with ease and complexity, and essential to the film’s narrative in a way that never felt didactic. Accompanied by an elegant score by Philip Glass and a canonical performance by beloved cult actor Tony Todd, 1992 Candy is masterful – frightening and dizzying in the most embodied sense.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, left, and Kyle Kaminsky in a scene from Candyman, a revision of the ’90s horror classic of the same name.Parrish Lewis / The Associated Press

DaCosta Candy stands as a current continuation of the stories from the previous film. Here we focus on Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a successful artist billed as “the great black hope of the Chicago art scene”. McCoy and his partner Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) – a remarkable mid-career curator who is now being spotted by prestigious actors and shakers in the art world – are portrayals of the contemporary black elite. McCoy’s work is shown alongside that of established artists Torkwase Dyson, Theaster Gates, and Arnold Kemp, a detail that all too obviously tries to convince us of both the specific cultural positioning and critical success of his work. It is the work of a black artist, on the lives of blacks, which has been defended by the public and black and white critics and who enjoys hereditary status within the institution.

McCoy, drawn to the Candyman story told to him over dinner, returns to the haunting figure’s home site – the Cabrini-Green Projects – as an artist in search of inspiration. Much like Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) from the 1992 film, her goals here are extractive. He is partly a researcher, partly an anthropologist in search of knowledge, if not a muse, of which we speak only in a low voice within the community. The film holds promise in these early acts, pointing to the potential for a toothy class analysis of the black cultural elite that too often values ​​the experiences of the black working class as a cultural product for sale or otherwise embedded in it. the capital.

However, the film’s failure to properly engage or even act on that potential characterizes far too much of its subsequent moves. Too often the cores of complex ideas about race, class and gender are thrown at us regardless of their size and form. We are told of anti-black racism through obvious platitudes such as “they like what we make but not us”, which are strewn throughout the film, as if black audiences need such reminders. By the time Candy comes to an end, its final confused narrative act only makes sense to the extent that such contradictions of history and thought have governed the overall logic of the film.

Colman Domingo in Candyman. The cores of complex ideas regarding race, class, and gender are too often thrown to film audiences regardless of their scale and form.Parrish Lewis / The Associated Press

In its attempts to revisit the divergences of the original film, DaCosta’s film only traces its narrative inconsistencies with all the force and even deeper bewilderment. Gone is the seductive tangle of eroticism and dread, replaced here by flat characters stumbling limply over a script determined to hit us over the head with its social commentary. The city of Chicago itself as well as the Cabrini-Green projects, which were previously rendered in Rose’s film as an alchemical system of worlds within invisible architecture, are also void of life.

Particularly damning is the overly literal invocation of the movie “Say Your Name”. The urgency in the pit of the stomach inspired by the Candyman’s request for invocation of “say my name” in both films already evokes such haunting resonances between past fictions and present realities, but here – as is the custom in the film – overly pedantic political statements that trade on black life and death, and the black bodies that endure both, attempt to add ill-conceived depth to its already tenuous storyline.

The goals of integrating critics of the original film with a more intergenerational view of the systemic nature of anti-black violence are too obvious and poorly initiated. DaCosta Candy asks us to question the reliability of certain narrators and, at the same time, asserts himself as uninformed. He asks us to see black women as inheriting the legacy of black men – to be, far too simply, the custodians of their stories – while relying on Peele’s market value to the point of disrupting autonomy. perceived by its director.

The world in which McCoy and Cartwright live is shaped by the virulent capitalist desire to willfully misunderstand and profit from the latest black success; here the original thinking is made acceptable to the public and white critics who are looking for content that is supposed to be thought-provoking to assert their liberal educations. It’s a failed statement about black artistic creation that, sadly, comes to describe the film itself.

In the interest of consistency across all critical critics, The Globe has removed its star rating system in film and theater to align with the coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, Works of Excellence will be noted with a Critics’ Choice designation throughout the cover. (TV reviews, usually based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

Editor’s Note: (August 27) An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Candyman was streaming on September 1. This version has been updated.