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New ‘Candyman’ director Nia DaCosta promises a version with ‘a lot more of the Black experience’

This reimagining of the 1992 Chicago horror classic touches on police brutality, gentrification, cultural appropriation and other pressing local issues.

“Candyman” director Nia DaCosta (right) discusses a scene on a CTA train with star Teyonah Parris.
Universal Pictures

Don’t call the new “Candyman” film a sequel.

A reboot? A remake?

Not in the least bit — try again.

The film’s director, Nia DaCosta, a Harlem, New York, native who grew up across the street from public housing, says she wanted to “reimagine” the legend of the original 1992 film. Widely regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time, it’s told from the perspective of graduate student Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen), who went to the Cabrini-Green Homes, a housing project known for heartbreaking violence, neglect and gentrification, for her thesis research.

“It really started with” co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, DaCosta said. “They had a very strong idea that they wanted the film to be more expansive than a reboot or remake. If we’re going to do ‘Candyman,’ we should do more than just copy what was there before.

“When I came on, it was really important to me that we do more with the legend, and make it expansive. I think it was fun to me that we shoot the POV with less Helen, but a lot more of the Black experience.”

3-13-2002 Copy photo of Cabrini Green on September 23, of children running along the Cabrini Green campus six months after then Mayor Jane Byrne occupied an apartment in “Cabrini Green”. This photo was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning portfolio by John H. White, Chicago Sun-Times
Children run along the Cabrini-Green Homes six months after Mayor Jane Byrne briefly moved in there in 1981 to bring attention to Cabrini’s troubles.
John H. White/Sun-Times

“Candyman,” which opens Fridays in theaters, has themes encompassing race, police brutality, gentrification, cultural appropriation and the responsibility institutions have when it comes to public housing blight.

In one scene, an art director explaining the type of content audiences are interested in tells Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character: “The South Side is played.”

The film also mentions the horrific 1997 case of a 9-year-old girl, then known as “Girl X,” who was raped, strangled, poisoned, and left for dead in a Cabrini-Green stairwell. Two months after the original film’s debut, 7-year-old Dantrell Davis was shot and killed by a sniper’s stray bullet as he walked to school with his mother.

“That line of exploiting racial pain in order to make art for white people was really what that was all about,” said DaCosta. “But also struggling with your own history, and how as an artist — or a person — do you reconcile it?”

While filming in Chicago, DaCosta took a walk around the area where the sprawling housing project once stood, and took in the fact that a Target now sits on the land.

“You’d see yuppies walking their dogs, and then a little further up a Target,” said DaCosta. “It is really interesting the amount of development that’s happened around the community that didn’t seem to be able to get into the community, which is part of what the movie is about.

“I think it informs why we knew it was imperative that we expand this beyond ‘Oh, this is one sort of evil demonic killer and his story happens in the 1800s.’ We just talked about the systemic issues. … It’s cyclical and every generation we have this violence, and it changes and it warps, and it shifts so it looks differently. It’s all part of our history. So it definitely informed why we said, ‘OK, we’re going to take this ‘Candyman’ legend and make it work for us a little bit more.’ ”

Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) walks through the Cabrini Rowhouses in “Candyman.”
Universal Pictures

DaCosta, who says Near North’s Marina City apartment buildings/condos are her favorite local filming location, also states the importance of surrounding the main cast — Emmy winner Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, and Colman Domingo — with local actors.

She says local actors Rebecca Spence (of Steppenwolf’s “Mary Page Marlowe”), and Carl Clemons-Hopkins (“Hacks” on HBO Max) are standout performers in the film.

“Chicago has a great wall of talent, and I was so impressed with everyone,” said DaCosta. “I think for me the [Chicago cast] added a certain level of authenticity because they were like if there’s something felt lost, they would correct it. That was so useful to have in the cast. … I think that’s a better way to do it.”