Vanessa Estelle Williams Talks About ‘Candyman’ Return and Memes

  • Nia DaCosta’s 2021 “Candyman” remake hits theaters Friday.
  • Insider spoke with Vanessa Estelle Williams who starred in the 1992 original and has returned. 
  • Williams said the remake reframes Black trauma through “the voice of Black people.” 
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Time has not been kind to the original 1992 “Candyman” film.

The film was never a huge critical hit, but sometime during the early-mid ’00s it developed a cult following among Black horror fans and was hailed as a misunderstood but important intervention in the horror film genre. 

The 90s flick is now regularly filed under the critical title of “white savior narrative” alongside films like Michelle Pfeiffer’s misguided “Dangerous Minds” and 2011’s “The Help.” In the case of “Candyman,” the title was earned through short-sighted political ambitions: the film is set within a poor housing project in Chicago called Cabrini-Green and prods but never challenges several issues such as gentrification, the history of American racial violence, and slavery through the lens of Helen, a well-to-do white graduate student. 

To borrow from the writer and Black horror scholar Tananarive Due, 1992’s “Candyman” is what we might think of as Blacks in Horror — that is, Black people simply present in horror films rather than Black Horror — a horror film that actively grapples with the social and political realities of Black life. 2021’s new “Candyman” remake, however, firmly sets its sights on the latter. 

“What I like to say is that the remake is a reframing of the racialized trauma against Black people from the voice of Black people,” said Vanessa Estelle Williams, who plays Anne-Marie McCoy, a returning cast member. 

“It’s updating what the landscape has allowed us to really talk about. And people are ready to hear it based on all the things that have happened from the pandemic and then the George Floyd incident that took over the world. In terms of his [Floyd’s] baby girl, ‘daddy changed the world.'” 

In the ‘Candyman’ remake, Cabrini-Green is no longer a housing project but a gentrified suburb 

candyman universal

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.


Co-written and directed by the relative newcomer Nia DaCosta (“Little Woods, and the forthcoming “The Marvels”), “Candyman” (2021) reignites the legend of the Candyman — a hook-wielding, vengeful, Black supernatural monster (originally portrayed by Tony Todd) who makes bloody victims of anyone brave enough to conjure his presence by saying his name five times in front of a mirror. 

This time, however, we move through the story with Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a Black visual artist who lives in a now-gentrified Cabrini-Green with his well-connected art dealer girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). The couple is part of a new generation of young Black Americans who have more access to social and economic capital through institutions and their families —  a change to the original story that Williams said she was “pleased” to find. 

“Well, I would think in all this time that we had moved on up a little bit,” she said.

“And because they were in that particular class it was a brilliant way to illustrate how you’re still having to deal with a marginalized existence. And it’s not like when we move on up we forget about our cousins and our other parts of our family that’s living in Cabrini still. I think that’s the reality of any upwardly mobile Black person… you still have people in your family, immediate or extended family, who are aren’t doing well at the same time. And so all of our stories cover that.”

Williams is not the only cast member from the original film who returns in DaCosta’s film, but she is certainly the only one who can be named here without fear of spoilers. Williams’s re-casting was emphatically revealed in the film’s first official trailer with a short scene that has since been given the viral meme treatment. In the clip, Williams soulfully hushes Abdul-Mateen II’s Anthony McCoy as he is about to say the name “Candyman.”

Williams told Insider that she thought her “first viral moment” and all the memes that were produced were “hilarious, crazy, and funny.” The scene in question, however, was born out of her deep connection to the character of Anne-Marie.   

“It was spontaneous and out of my transporting myself into Anne-Marie, her vernaculars, and her being in the church,” Williams said of the now-famous scene. “That’s a church move. Like, don’t say that! So many ushers and deaconesses have shushed me in church like that.”

Jordan Peele’s involvement convinced Vanessa Estelle Williams to join the ‘Candyman’ remake 

Teyonah Parris in the new "Candyman" movie.

Teyonah Parris in the new “Candyman” movie.

Universal Pictures

Williams was full of praise for the film’s director Nia DaCosta. She described the 31-year-old who also has directing credits on the cult British series “Toy Boy” as “brilliant,” “cutting edge,” and exactly what the “Candyman” franchise needed. Although Williams said she knew she wanted to return to the franchise when she first heard Jordan Peele would be involved in the project. 

“I’m a huge fan of Jordan Peele. So of course when I heard that he was going to be involved in a remake, a retelling of ‘Candyman,’ I wondered to myself, ‘I would think they’d need some of the survivors from that film,'” Williams said. 

The Oscar-winning “Get Out” filmmaker served as a producer and co-writer on the film and his district touch lingers throughout. Many of his narrative preoccupations such as gentrification, white and Black neoliberal politics, and the Black middle class are present. The film also borrows from his hyper-digital, bold primary-color visual style. For large parts of the film’s first press run — the original 2020 release was shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the film was even regularly described as “Peele’s reimagining” rather than DaCosta’s. 

It’s unclear whether this was down to Universal’s shrewd marketing decision to push Peele’s involvement or a general symptom of misogynoir-tinged ambivalence to DaCosta’s talent. Nevertheless, fans of the franchise will delight in the fact that the remake ends in what has become typical Peele fashion: blood-tingling, horrific ambiguity. At the film’s end, very little is tied up or explained. But there are signs of a potential Candyman multiverse. So will there be a sequel to the remake? 

“I would absolutely be interested. I’m interested in doing everything related to Nia DaCosta, and Jordan Peele, and the whole Monkeypaw [Peele’s production company] family. So yes, yes, and more yes,” Williams said at the potential of any further “Candyman” films. 

“I haven’t heard any whispers, but you know, the company and everyone are hard at work. And we’ve got so many things coming up. I’m open, available, and hoping that I’ll be asked to come and join them again.” 

“Candyman” opens in theaters Friday.

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