'Candyman' Stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris on 'Taking the Trauma Back' With Horror Hit

'Candyman' starts Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Teyonah Parris speak on the Nia DaCosta-directed, Jordan Peele-produced revival of the iconic horror franchise.

'Candyman' Teyonah Parris and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Universal Pictures

Image via Universal Pictures

'Candyman' Teyonah Parris and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

At one point, I thought I was the only person ready for a Candyman revival. 

The idea of my favorite horror monsters being course-corrected by people like Jordan Peele is fun, primarily because it means that we can get Peele infusing the horrors of real life into a 90-minute movie on a regular basis.

The titular villain from Candyman, the Chicago-set 1992 supernatural horror film from Bernard Rose (based on a story by Clive Barker), always stood out as the lone perfect Black horror icon, in my eyes and the eyes of many Black horror fans. Peele’s inclusion as producer and co-writer on this Nia DaCosta-directed film is important; he offers a fresh Black lens to the script, incorporating social issues like police brutality and gentrification into this retelling of the Candyman tale. And the fans showed out––to the tune of a $22.3 million opening weekend. With Candyman, DaCosta (Little Woods, 2022’s The Marvels) became the first Black woman to direct a No. 1 box office film.

'Candyman' behind the scenes

For Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who stars in the remake, the film is nostalgic. “Candyman. It was ’92, ’93,” the star remembers. “I’m very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old. I don’t remember the film, but I do remember playing the Candyman game”—conjuring the monster by saying his name five times in the mirror—“in the bathroom with my siblings.”

“I just laugh because he calls it a game,” says Teyonah Parris, who plays Abdul-Mateen’s girlfriend, Brianna, in the film. 

“It’s not a game,” Abdul-Mateen admits.

“Black people don’t want to say they are summoning a thing,” Parris explains. “[It’s the] same for me. [I was] young. I hadn’t seen the entire movie, but I saw the image of Tony Todd as Candyman, and that just stuck with me. We were going to say it in the bathroom with my siblings, but we never made it to five.”

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in 'Candyman'

Parris and Abdul-Mateen were hardly alone, and the original Candyman became a classic. Hollywood, smelling a franchise, released two subpar sequels (1995’s Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and 1999’s Candyman 3: Day of the Dead), which allowed Tony Todd to flourish despite the weak material. With the success of franchise revivals—like 2018’s Halloween, which spawned two sequels itself—it made sense to tap Peele to bring Candyman into the modern era. Hollywood is still very low on true Black input, so Candyman’s return at this moment, in a film that aims to encompass a larger social conversation, means a lot to Black horror fans.

“We didn’t have a Black Freddy, we didn’t have a Black Jason,” Peele explained in a recent Candyman behind-the-scenes feature. “It felt important that this Candyman be told from a Black perspective.”

DaCosta broke it down best in the same behind-the-scenes feature: “Candyman was a real sort of urban legend when I was growing up,” she said. “It wasn’t just attached to the movie. For us, Candyman was some demon ghost man killing people in the projects.”

In the original Candyman, Helen (Virginia Madsen) takes a trip to Cabrini-Green in Chicago to investigate the urban legend of the Candyman, who preys on people in the hood, promising violence if they don’t maintain silence. It’s a wild case of life imitating art. “I’ve always been fascinated with urban legends,” Peele shares in the behind-the-scenes feature. “Candyman is the patron saint of the urban legend.”

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Thus, it’d make sense that a direct sequel to the 1992 film would not only further examine the gentrification that’s gone on in Chicago, but also address social justice issues in the Black community. Abdul-Mateen plays Anthony McCoy, an artist who’s seemingly searching for a subject for his art. His girlfriend, Brianna (Parris), works in the art scene. While McCoy finally figures out the theme of his next show, highlighting the urban lore of the city, he’s simultaneously moving toward his true calling––resulting in a physical transformation that morphs Anthony throughout the film, a process Abdul-Mateen is ready to be done with.

“It’s frustrating,” he admits jokingly. “I don’t want to do no more of those. For a long time, I just want to show up. I don’t even want to get in shape for work no more. I just wanted to show up and put on some jeans and a T-shirt and go do my job.” Abdul-Mateen is a trooper, though. Remember, he was painted blue from head to toe for his work on HBO’s Watchmen. He understands the assignment. [Ed Note: Light spoilers for Candyman from this point on.]

“We’re always transforming—I guess that’s the job,” Abdul-Mateen says. “For Anthony’s transformation, it was interesting because it was helpful to allow him to deteriorate, not just physically, but psychologically as well, and then to kind of go on that journey. As he learned more and more about the trauma that he was experiencing, to witness that trauma manifest on the outside of his body, not just in his mind. A lot of people, we have our own histories and traumas that we learn and that we accumulate, and in a lot of ways we can hide those from the world and still go out and navigate and still be citizens out in the world, sort of undercover, or in disguise, you know what I’m saying? But Anthony, he was forced to wear his trauma on his sleeve—no pun intended—to really wear it out there until it turned into something that sort of [isolated] him. I allowed that to inform my performance. It was very interesting to take it down that road.”

Teyonah Parris and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in 'Candyman'

During the global press conference ahead of this conversation, one where Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” played while journalists waited, Abdul-Mateen echoed similar sentiments in regard to “taking the trauma back” when it comes to the journey Anthony goes on throughout this film. This is vital in a world where Black Lives Matter is a phrase that was desperately needed. What happens to a people when they are fed up and are tired of demanding change? Wisely avoiding any speculation on the future of the Candyman franchise, Abdul-Mateen is ready for what that means for the future of the series.

“I’m very excited to even be a part of those conversations,” he says. “Before the film, it means one thing to summon Candyman. You summon Candyman with a certain set of expectations. After this film, it could mean a completely different thing to summon [Candyman]. There [are] different implications on the consequences to summoning Candyman. I’m excited to be a part of that narrative because that’s the narrative, to me, that’s more provocative today. That’s very exciting, to talk about the what-ifs and what does that look like to continue that legacy today.”

If there is to be a future for this Candyman, we imagine Parris will be better prepared. Prior to Candyman, she’d never done horror work. Hell, it was filmed before Parris’ work on Marvel’s WandaVision and The Marvels, so this production marked another first for her. “It was interesting because I also haven’t done films that require for you to see things that aren’t necessarily there,” she admits. “That was very much an experience of really having to trust Nia. I’m not sure—‘Am I yelling at the right thing?’ We didn’t have even the [ability] to see what we would be seeing [on screen] later, so I just had to trust what she was telling me was there.”


Anyone Peele is speaking to knows exactly what’s there. That’s one of the reasons his work has been so impactful. He’s providing a service to an underserved audience. And instead of talking down or serving mediocre content, he finds intriguing ways to integrate the horrors of the real world with the horror genre to do what he does best: turn disgusting, real-life atrocities into stories that may amplify those horrors. Ultimately, his stories find a way to turn the world on its head, continuously providing new ways to combat evil in 90-minute sequences.

“Our film [is] actually really scary and terrifying on many levels,” Parris says. “You have your jump scares, but you also have just these very deep themes that are just horrifying for us to process and deal with.”

Candyman is in theaters now.

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