Candyman Ain’t Sweet

By Ifeanyi Nwonye

In the 1992 film, Candyman, Bernard Rose uses his film to portray the cognitive dissonance of fake White allies who willingly participate in the anti-Black oppressive systems they claim to be so strongly against. The performative “wokeness” of the film’s offhanded critiques of Black stereotypes and racial inequality is effectively drowned out by its racially tone-deaf plot and colorist casting choices. 


When the White Protagonist, Helen, and her light skin Black sidekick, Bernadette, visit a Black inner city neighborhood to get new information for their Candyman thesis, they investigate an old apartment where one of the murders occurred. Their investigation was soon interrupted by a resident of the apartment, Anne-Marie, who chastises them for trespassing because “Whites don’t never come through here, ‘crept to cause us a problem.” (Page 29 Script) After much convincing and reassurance from Helen, Anne-Marie reluctantly agrees to being interviewed for their assignment but keeps her guard up as she comments, “You say you’re doin’ a study. What you gonna say? That we’re bad, we steal, we gangbang, we do drugs?” (Page 29 Script) Despite the anti-racist implications of these lines, the film still uses these exact same stereotypes to choose this neighborhood as the site where Helen and Bernadette are sexually harassed by a group of dark skin Black men upon arrival and where Helen is later jumped by a group of dark skin Black thugs. 


Our White damsel, Helen, is assaulted for no apparent reason during her visit to an old bathroom in the neighborhood and gets the men quickly detained for their crime afterwards. Reflecting on the incident with Bernadette, Helen is frustrated that her White privilege caused her case to be so heavily prioritized over the brutal assaults and murders of Black victims from the neighborhood that have remained unsolved. (Page 47 Script) The aforementioned privilege refers to the perceived hyper-femininity of White women, which elicits more empathy to their pain when they’re portrayed as victims. A critique of this crude reality would earn this White production team some extra woke points if they hadn’t, once again, shot themselves in the foot. 


There are two major damsels throughout this film: 1) Helen, who gets assaulted in the bathroom and endures the relentless pursuit of Candyman who begs her to “be his victim” throughout the film and 2) Bernadette who also serves as a Tragic Mulatto character who’s extremely fearful while in the Black neighborhood and was sexually harassed along with Helen. For both characters, their traumatic experiences are supplemented by subtle, yet dramatic acting choices that allow them to display their sorrow while keeping their humanity and dainty femininity intact. Meanwhile, when we see the victimization of a dark-skin Black woman character, Anne-Marie, her behavior is absolutely belligerent. After she comes home to find her floor soaked in blood, her dog decapitated, and her baby missing, she lets out a horrible scream. She not only pounces on Helen after she emerges, blood-soaked, from another room but even after Helen stabs her and their brawl is broken up by the police, Anne-Marie nearly assaults a police officer to get another go at Helen. The very intentional directing choices of Mr. Rose causes Anne-Marie to be portrayed as a belligerent, aggressive animal even in the midst of her own victimization. This dehumanizing of Black women and the trivialization of their pain is the foundation for why White and Light skin women’s assault cases are conducted with such haste and sincerity while Black women’s (especially dark skin ones) are not. This, along with the film’s use of a dark skin Black person to play a monstrosity who destroys everything in his wake to be with this White woman he’s so fond of, causes this film’s sad attempt at racial commentary to serve as more of a slap in the face than a revolutionary contradiction to these racist stereotypes. 


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