Nia DaCosta’s use of Black artists historically speaking out in her spiritual Candyman sequel,
brilliantly realized by a small art production company named Manual Cinema, traces back to artists such as John W. Cooper Jr., or the “Black Napoleon of Ventriloquism’s” use of dummies in the 19th and 20th centuries to fight racial violence, and Ralph Chessé, a famous puppeteer who opened his own theater in San Francisco in the early 1920s, operating marionettes. “Candyman ain't a 'he.’ Candyman is the whole damn hive,” proclaims William Burke (Colman Domingo) to Brianna (Teyonah Parris). He represents all Black victims of white supremacy, and this art form narratively conveys it in a succinct, adulatory way, the history of which is rare to find. In fact, one of the few ways this type of Black art lives is through the “Living Objects: African American Puppetry” exhibit at Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry in Storrs, CT.
Artists play a complex role in DaCosta's new vision, serving as both a source of division between the projects and the whiter, upper-class high rises a mere few blocks outside of them, and as an important link to Candyman's past and the generational trauma the persona represents. Candyman is both the ghost of a 19th Century man who fell in love with one of the subjects of his commissioned portraits who was brutally slaughtered for at the hands of white men, as well as every other Black man who faced a similar fate, including, eventually, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), also an artist, desperate to escape his artistic block, even if it means exploiting his own community.
"I think it’s a really great way to show this Black man trying to navigate a very white world, someone who is also being asked to exploit his community in order to make art." DaCosta tells the New York Times
. "He’s trying to write a thesis, trying to get inspiration for his work and get out of the slump he’s in. Almost all Black artists, no matter what industry they’re in, deal with this." Like the public housing project, Cabrini-Green, that McCoy bases his latest project on to free himself of the artistic "slump" in which he finds himself, the art world is historically controlled by a white majority. However, Candyman, and everything he represents, won't let McCoy forget what that truly means.
"It’s all about, 'My name is to be remembered, My story is to be remembered' — by this community in particular,” DaCosta further explains to the New York Times. “Because the community doesn’t exist anymore, and gentrification changed the demographics of the community.”