Candyman (1992) centers around themes of racial violence, distrust of the police, and unfair treatment of the black community. On its surface it seems as if any movie willing to acknowledge these themes would therefore be a positive advocate for black people in film. However, after closer analysis, the film may not constitute a “black horror” film despite its largely African-American cast.
The article “Blacks and Horror Films” opens with a brief analysis of Jurassic Park, where the author points out that “Blacks have a rather unique relationship with American film’s presentation of Blacks. Some may bring to, and take away from, their film viewing experience culturally specific expectations … in which they hope to see themselves as whole, full, and realized subjects rather than… human meat to up a bloody body count” (Coleman, 1-2). That is to say, especially in this case, that the culture we bring to a viewing of a film heavily affects one’s interpretation of it. Coleman also marks an important distinction between African American people in horror films and horror films made by African American people. Coleman explains that, in a certain cultural understanding, “Blacks have been rendered … a metaphor and catalyst for evil, and demonized, although not always cast, physically, in the role of demon” (Coleman, 10). In this way, “Blacks may appear in all manner of horror films, but the films themselves may not be Black, per se, in their relationship to the filmmaker, audience, or the experience they present” (Coleman 7). This is particularly relevant when discussing Candyman.
The film centers around a team of researchers, one white and one black, both women, who are investigating the urban legends and rumors surrounding the story of “Candyman”, an evil entity that appears when you repeat his name five times in the mirror. Described as a man who has a hook for a hand and a man who was a victim of a murderous mob who killed him by covering him in bees, Candyman stands in as the worst example of what can happen when ones worst fears come true. This is certainly a narrative that could resonate with the community that has experienced persecution and discrimination. That being said, recognizing the violence against the black community seems to be mostly absent from the action in the film, as the murders of most of Candyman‘s victims are told in a narrative conversation format with flashbacks to show the audience the aftermath of the grizzly scene. Well this may have been done simply to avoid having to show children in peril, which is often viewed as a cheap trick of horror films, it is true that the only violence the audience gets to witness beyond the murder of Bernadette, played by Kasi Lemmons, is directed at our white protagonist Helen, played by Virginia Madsen, a white woman, And is perpetrated by Candyman, played by Tony Todd, a black man. Despite the fact that this movie has a very large group of black people in multiple named roles, the audience is still given a blonde white woman to latch onto and follow as she is terrorized by a black man and eventually burned by a black mob.
This, coupled with the fact that the movie is directed and written by Bernard Rose, a white man, and based on a story by Clive Barker, another white man, may cause one to doubt the sincerity of this movies use of the black community as a subject of terror.
In the end, I cannot speak to how the black community feels about this film. I am a white man, and therefore I largely have no experience with dealing with racism personally. For that I am extremely grateful. I can only speak to the fact that although this film seems to acknowledge that black people are faced with the reality of unjust killings and untrustworthy cops, a white woman’s story takes center stage as soon as she begins to face similar issues. Whether this is social commentary from the filmmakers, or just a horror film that falls into some of the traps of the genre remains to be seen.