Nia DaCosta breaks the silhouette stories from “Candyman”
DaCosta celebrates Candy man and all of its grandeur and lore through a visual medium that we don’t see often in cinema.
Urban legends have a funny way of integrating into our everyday consciousness. Legends linger in the back of our minds when we are alone thanks to effective storytelling by whoever is telling us the story. Visual storytelling is one of the most effective ways to tell a story that will resonate with audiences, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to urban legends.
In Nia DaCostas Candy man, a direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same name, the legend of Candyman is told in a variety of media including spoken words, paintings and shadow puppetry, an art form not common in modern cinema.
DaCosta’s integration of shadow puppetry lends itself to telling the stories of violence and dispossession that Candyman created in the first place. She worked with Manual cinema, a Chicago-based design company focused on incorporating practical theatrical elements onto the screen to create the shadow puppet show to pass on the lore Candy man to the audience.
Fandango All-Access sat down with DaCosta to find out how the shadow puppet sequences impact the retelling of urban legends in ways that are the original Candy man did not succeed. Check out the video below:
The Candyman legend
If you are not familiar with Candy man or the urban legend that surrounds it then let me break it down for you.
The legend arose from the perfectly twisted mind of Clive Barker and his short story.The forbiddenIn “The Forbidden,” an academic named Helen is obsessed with the abandoned apartments at Spector Steet Estates, a derelict housing estate. While photographing the area’s graffiti and decay, she discovers a secret the community is keeping: one urban legend that would eventually be its downfall.
Heavily inspired by Barker’s story, Bernard Rose moved the story to the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago and told the story of a bougie outsider who was intrigued by an urban legend in a black community. While Roses Candy man is a true horror classic, its story focuses heavily on the fears of a white character who feels “strange”. The story doesn’t try to understand the “why” behind that Candy man Legend or how the community was influenced by the legend.
DaCostas Candy man puts the belief and obsession with the legend at the center of the story. Candy man‘s legend comes from the deaths of black men. The first death was the black painter Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), who was brutally murdered in the 19th century after discovering his relationship with Caroline Sullivan, the daughter of a white landowner. The legend of Candyman is constantly being reshaped, forgotten, and reformed as black men and children are murdered, making the Candyman an avenger of intergenerational trauma.
The use of shadow puppetry
From the moment the project got the green light, DaCosta knew she wanted to tell the story of Candyman through shadow puppets. These puppets are practical cutouts that are played on an overhead projector. These silhouette figures, with their exaggerated limbs and stiff movements, have an eerie appearance that visually depicts the horrors of the stories being told.
The shadow puppet sequences are used regularly throughout the film and in the credits, and tell stories of inherited hatred and violence. The puppet show adds a layer of separation to separate the audience and storyteller from the real horrors that black men and children experience.
DaCosta stated that she was influenced to use shadow puppets to tell the stories of black men and children who, upon discovery and research, became a version of the Candyman Kara Walker, an artist known for her use of cut paper silhouettes depicting historical narratives haunted by sexuality, violence, and submission, and Lotte cleaner, a German film director and silhouette pioneer.
Reiniger believed that animation like the use of silhouettes was the best visual medium to work with because the puppets existed on a separate plane of existence that did not follow the rules of our world.
The conscious decision to keep the silhouette of the hand controlling the shadow puppets was to show the audience that the person telling the story is as important as the story being told. Usually hands and unwanted shadows were cut out of this post, but DaCosta realized the importance of creating and physically controlling the narrative told by the puppets.
There is a moment in the film where Sherman’s (Michael Hargrove) story is retold through the shadow puppets and the voice-over by William Burke (Coleman Domingo), then Sherman’s story is repeated in the shadow puppet sequence in the credits, but this time slightly changed by an unknown Hand. While the differences are small, as Sherman was discovered by the police, the graphics show what DaCosta found so fascinating about legends and how they are passed on by a new storyteller.
The shadow puppet show in Candy man reflects how the storyteller affects the perspective of the legends we are told. The Candyman is a manifestation of those who have suffered violent and unjust murders. As the mythology is torn apart and reconstructed, note the differences and why those differences were made. What effects does the change of location have or who is telling a certain story? These are questions that DaCosta asks itself and the audience through the shadow stories of those who represent what and who the Candyman really is.
What do you think of the shadow puppet sequences in Candy man? Let us know in the comment below!