An interview with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Freddy Kruger, Drácula, Pinhead, Pennywise are some examples of the greatest icons of supernatural and / or fantastic horror. For Jordan Peele, a fan of the genre both as a viewer and as a creator, something was missing: “A black Freddy.” And that lasted until 1992 with the premiere of candy man directed by Bernard Rose and starring Tony Todd.

candy man, based on the play The Forbidden by Clive Barker, introduced us to Daniel Robitaille, a 19th century artist (son of a slave) who is violently murdered after having impregnated his lover, a white woman. The story moves to Chicago in the 90s in Cabrini-Green where the spirit of Candyman appears when a university student named Helen Lyle, begins to investigate the urban legend of this character.

candy man it will appear if you mention his name 5 times in front of the mirror. What happens next? An extremely bloody and violent act that recalls Robitaille’s own execution, a victim who turns into a monster. Or in other words, speaking of the historical reality of the Afro-descendant community: a wish that comes true.

Tony Todd como Candyman en ‘Candyman’ de 1992. / Foto: Getty Images

Candyman’s return

Almost 30 years after that first installment, candy man (HERE the trailer) is back with a sequel directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta (director of The Marvels), produced and co-written by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen, The Matrix, Resurrection) next to Teyonah Parris (WandaVision).

Here we meet Anthony McCoy, a young artist from Chicago struggling to find a new muse to create works. After a dinner listening to the legend of candy man, decides to go investigate Cabrini-Green about its history and the events that have fueled the idea that it actually existseven beyond invoking it in front of a mirror.

Why? Anthony discovers that the existence of candy man revolves around the brutality with which he was assassinated, the result of racism, discrimination and a system that violates marginalized communities. Cabrini-Green, in this way, is the perfect setting for a film that tackles several themes: gentrification and trauma.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Doming0

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Colman Domingo in ‘Candyman’ / Photo: Universal Pictures

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

We had the opportunity to chat with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II about the premiere of candy man focusing on two points: the genre of terror as a tool of social criticism and the historical debt to African-American victims who were turned into monsters to justify a crime.

candy man it’s a great horror movie, but it goes beyond genre because the main character is driven by a need for his story to be told not because it is forgotten, but because it is confused. Maybe it’s an allegory or a metaphor for how people, how a community, deal with trauma. In this way, candy man is more complex than it seems, because it is about how we are not allowed to forget the victims of racial violence and injustice.

Yeah, I think if that’s what you took, that’s just what it’s about. This story, which is also about involuntary martyrs, it’s about guilt, revenge, it’s about tragedy; is a tragic story of a young man whose life was cut short and he became a monster but without his approval. It’s about all those things, of course.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II en 'Candyman'

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony in ‘Candyman’. / Photo: Universal Pictures

What’s George Floyd got to do with it?

In the end from the film it is inevitable to wonder why we turn victims into monsters. And it is also inevitable to think that we do that by trying to justify our crimes as a society. candy man, the film and the character, explains the dynamics in which someone goes from being victim to a monster.

George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. Each and every one of them turned into monsters to justify their tragic death.

I think it is because of guilt, but it also allows us … Well, not us because not me … But historically it has allowed the oppressors to be seen as victims. You commit the crime and then you turn around and say, ‘It wasn’t me, it was them. If you see George Floyd And how he was killed, in front of a camera, it’s obvious to the whole world, but still there is a considerable part of the process that makes him the monster.

We talk about his criminal past and see how to turn him into a villain. Question why he was there in the first place and where he should have been. So a significant part of public judgment is devoted to saying, ‘He was, he’s a monster and that’s why he deserves this kind of treatment.’

And ‘Candyman’, definitely take that approach or that perspective and give the victim the power of a monster.candy man’ asks the question if you create a monster, let’s see what happens when you get it; and ourscandy man’ He has more decision-making capacity than he had in his real life and that is interesting, I think it’s an interesting dynamic to imagine.


Foto: Getty Images.


How to deal with trauma

candy man represents, since the 90s, many things that have an impact on a social level, especially the violence and the way it has escalated in recent years against the African-American community. But when dealing with the subject, The even more brutal differences against black women are rarely acknowledged.

The character of Colman Domingo in Candyman, says –paraphrasing– candy man not a He, Candyman it’s the whole damn hive”. But Candyman is the story of violence against men specifically, not women.

I think the story of ‘Candyman’ definitely not exclusive to black men in America, but can also extend to black women, trans women, gay men, the LGBT + community, communities that are marginalized and oppressed.

I will say that it is important to talk about black men, to talk about black American men and women, of our struggle because we are the ones who are creating this project and we are using it to talk about our community in particular, but it can also be used as an allegory for other oppressed communities.

All of these communities have frequently suffered at the hands of white violence throughout history, and I think that is one of the things that is important to highlight, that all these communities are continually portrayed as the enemy, they are mutilated and turned around and turned into monsters. In all those scenarios, Candyman ‘can definitely be a point of reference to tell the stories of those oppressed communities.

Teyonah Parris in 'Candyman'

Teyonah Parris en ‘Candyman’. / Foto: Universal Pictures

A new narrative

candyman, truly, it is an important movie. A long list of films have affected culture and society, both positively and negatively. candyman, in this way, can be a watershed in narrative terms and the way the African-American community is portrayed in film.

I hope so, I think it’s definitely a continuation of what we’ve been seeing for the last couple of years, especially with Jordan’s work [Peele] on ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’, and now ‘Candyman’. We also have stories like ‘Lovecraft Country’ and ‘Watchmen’ where representation and gender are used to tell our stories, to tell stories that deal with black trauma in a more sophisticated way. And specifically, they show the trauma for what it is, what it was and leaving it there.

I think it is a way of use the story of trauma against our lives and our bodies, as a starting point to create a narrative that goes beyond the trauma. That is important in the cinema when making movies because it also allows us to see different images; allows us to see ourselves portrayed in different ways that we can aspire to be and not just be lessons, but see ourselves in an inspirational and aspirational light.

'candy man'

A scene from ‘Candyman’ / Photo: Universal Pictures

There is a lot of psychology behind horror movies, and this genre is fascinating because it is not only entertaining and meets many parameters of commercial success, but at the same time it is perfect for discussing the horrors of reality.

One of the things I like to say about gender is that When it comes to the black experience in America, our stories are usually not credible. We tell the story of what happened at a traffic light or what happened in a shopping center, an encounter with the police or how we were chased in a store by the security guards, and that. it becomes our experiences being discriminated against.

Many times those stories, those experiences, face questions and interrogations that are designed to invalidate our testimonies., to fill in the holes because it can’t be as bad as you say it is. Horror allows us to take these gruesome scenarios and put them in a context that allow people to come, listen, and bring an open mind to the stories of that trauma.

Allows us Reach out to a wider audience and still tell these stories and entertain, but even more importantly get to the heart of those terrifying experiences. So I think that’s one of the reasons why terror can so perfectly match horrible experiences that usually arise from those stories and from the black experience in America.

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An interview with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II