Side note: This post covers topics and events that are sensitive in nature. I tried to tell these stories with respect, and with accurate information. If I have written anything here that comes across as insensitive (beyond the retelling of the events themselves), please let me know. I only had two intentions when writing this post: 1) Discuss my interpretation of a truly artistic video, and 2) Bring to light some crimes that are truly horrific and should be better known. It is not my intention to cause offence to anyone.
Candyman is an upcoming sequel to the 1992 movie of the same name.
I want to focus on this paper puppet video, rather than the upcoming movie itself. I’ve watched this powerful 2 minutes 45 second video more times than I could count. It’s obvious to us all that this video serves a larger purpose than simply building on the lore of a fictitious horror movie character’s origin story. Each tale features the unjust murder of a black person at the hands of white people. The haunting scenes capture the fear of each victim as they attempt to protect themselves from whichever mob is hunting them. We know these things have happened and still happen to this day. The truth is that some of these are pulled directly from true stories, and they are absolutely heart-breaking.
Overview of the Trailer
I suggest that you go and watch the video if you haven’t already. It’s truly a work of art! The clip uses animated paper puppets to show a series of separate yet connected stories. These scenes depict injustices being carried out against black people at the hands of white communities. The key feature of each is that the victim is innocent but is targeted by an aspect of society. Throughout each piece of this film, we see a character painting these individuals, as if projecting their story onto canvas. This may reference a new character in the Candyman (2020) movie, but I think it’s also meant to highlight something larger, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
In the first story, we see a man who works in a candy factory giving treats to children. The police chase this man into a basement and beat him to death. Obviously, this is meant to highlight the corrupt and racist police system, whereby the law can be taken into their own hands. This is an idea that isn’t new, and yet still seems to go largely unchanged and unchallenged. Police in the US frequently murder black people, often with zero consequences. Many don’t even lose their jobs! It’s not that ALL police are racist, it’s that the system allows racist people to sit in a position of power. As Rage Against the Machine famously sang: “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses.”
An interesting aspect of this story is that an argument could be made that the man had committed a crime. He could be a paedophile who is trying to lure children to his lair with candy taken from his place of work. But that’s nothing more than an assumption. People will naturally assume that this man has committed a crime in order to justify the action taken by the police; much like what happens in real life. It’s as if committing a crime waives your human rights and leaves you open to whichever punishment officers of the law deem just. This also raises a second issue: even if that man is guilty, does that justify the forfeit of due process? No, of course not. I’ll talk more about the judicial system when I reach story 3.
However, this first story suggests that this man is from a working-class background. He works in a seemingly rundown factory and lives in a building covered in graffiti. Where I’m from, this type of building would be called a tenement. Class appears in different forms within each story. It serves to illustrate that while racism (particularly systemic racism) may exist in different forms across the class spectrum, it’s ultimately still present in all of them.
In the second story, we see a black man moving into a new house. When a mob gathers outside, he is dragged out by working class white men (they might not be working class but that’s my interpretation based on the car and general situation) who murder him. We don’t see any details, but the hook being attached to the car suggests that the victim is being dragged to his death. Here we see racism within just one aspect of the community, but it highlights the idea of certain racial hate crimes remaining below the radar of the police or simply being ignored altogether. It’s no secret that there are communities that police try to avoid, and there are undoubtedly crimes which don’t receive the appropriate level of attention.
Although this scene depicts violence, as do they all, it also highlights the fear and alienation that a black person may experience when moving into a white neighbourhood. When the man looks out of his window, he shows confusion and terror. Despite being a paper puppet animation, we feel real emotion. Most of us couldn’t imagine the horror of such a situation.
In the third story, we see a young boy riding his bike. In a similar manner to the previous tale, his neighbourhood turns on him. We see systemic racism being played out step by step, all within a story that lasts little more than 30 seconds. We see the child being accused by various members of his neighbourhood/community. We’re not sure what for, but he’s soon arrested. We like to imagine that courts are a place of fairness and justice, but that simply isn’t the case. Courts can only be as good and as fair as society allows them to be. Without a precedent for an action, a court’s decision will likely follow the status quo. If that status quo is built around racist ideals and systems, then only one outcome is likely.
In the previous two stories, we’ve seen action being taken by the police and the people, but here we see the system turn on the very people it should be protecting: the vulnerable. The jury is made up of identical figures, who look Trump-like in appearance, but are certainly meant to represent middle class white men. They find the child guilty, and so the judge rules him guilty. The final moments of this story show this child sitting in the electric chair, watching with fear and confusion as the helmet is placed on his head. A priest stands in front of him, reading from a Bible, and policeman stands behind him, waiting to activate the power.
It’s normal for a priest and a police officer to be two of the people within the chamber when someone is executed. But I also feel that they are shown here in order to represent something deeper. The priest represents the concept of faith. We can hope and pray for change, but ultimately those hopes and prayers won’t stop people from meeting a cruel and unjust end. As for the policeman, it’s ultimately highlighting that the police are the executioners. They may not all be bad, but that’s not to say they don’t all play a key role in allowing a racist system to continue. Police are supposed to protect and serve, but who is being protected when a little boy is executed?
The final character we see is pulled from the origin story of Candyman (1992), but it also highlights the final section of society: the upper class. In the original movie, we learn that Daniel Robitaille (a.k.a. Candyman) was the son of an ex-slave who amassed a fortune through shoe production. Daniel went to the best schools, experienced high society, and became a painter. While capturing the prominent status of a wealthy white woman through his art, they fell in love and had a child. The father of the woman then sends a mob after Daniel. They cut off his hand, attach a hook, cover him in honey and allow him to be stung by bees, all before burning what’s left. While fictional, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility in the slightest and highlights a very real problem: the rich and powerful can exert racist power over those they deem “less” than themselves. They can manipulate the system for their own benefit, no matter how vile and criminal that benefit may be.
Finally, I just want to mention one more interesting aspect of this video. Even though all the paper puppets are made of black material, we can tell which ones represent white people and which ones represent black people. I believe that this is meant to highlight the arbitrary differences focused on by racists. Ultimately, we are all the same and should be treated as such.
I now want to discuss two of the scenes in more detail, as both represent real stories. These acts of cruelty, unfairness, and evil may have taken place half a century apart, but this only serves to highlight the need for faster change.
Scene 2 – James Byrd Jr
In Jasper, Texas on the 7th June 1998, three white supremacists named John William King (23), Shawn Berry (23), and Lawrence Brewer (31) offered James Byrd Jr (49) a ride home. The term ‘white supremacist’ cannot be understated when used to describe these three. For example, John King was covered in racist tattoos. They included the words ‘Aryan Pride’, Nazi symbols, a black man hanging from a tree, a KKK member in white robes, a burning cross, and a patch representing the ‘Confederate Knights of America’, a white supremacist prison gang. Brewer had similar tattoos.
Instead of driving James Byrd Jr home, they headed down a country road…
The three men claimed that they had slashed James Byrd Jr’s throat before dragging his body behind their car for three miles, and this was the story that the public were told for a large portion of the trial. Only after a forensics team had carried out a thorough investigation, did they discover evidence that James Byrd had been trying desperately to keep his head off the ground for most of the dragging. It wasn’t until he collided with a culvert due to the manic weaving of the truck (which has been suggested to indicate the ‘fun’ that the men were having while dragging the poor man behind their car), that he died, as the impact caved in his skull and ripped an arm and shoulder off his body.
When police were first called to the scene, it was in response to calls of James Byrd Jr’s body having been discovered, seemingly the victim of a hit and run. After discovering what they believed to be tyre tracks running 2 miles along the road, police started following the trail. The further they went, the clearer it became that these weren’t marks caused by rubber tyres at all. Soon, the horror of the 2-mile long blood and skin tissue trail became apparent. Police soon found a tank top, t-shirt, a pair of shoes, and even dentures. In fact, police stated that there was a total of 81 spots where Byrd’s remains had been found.
James Byrd’s disfigured body was dumped outside a cemetery, one where the graves of black people and white people were separated by a fence. Many of these people experienced segregation in life AND in death!
The Aftermath of the James Byrd Jr Lynching
There is a documentary which covers the town of Jasper during the trial of King, Brewer, and Berry. White crews filmed the white community, and black crews filmed the black community. 1998 may have been over two decades ago, and much has changed in that time, but we still see the same infuriating responses from white people. I’m not saying that ALL white people hold this opinion, but it’s an opinion that is still shared nonetheless: the actions of the victim before their unjustly death often take priority over the nature of their murder.
When white members of the community discuss the incident, we hear statements like:
“I thought he spent most of his time in jail.”
“I still don’t think that no matter what kind of person he was, that he should have died that way. I think that it’s wrong what they done, I think it’s very wrong what they done, and I don’t think there’s any question of that…BUT…still, I want the defence to come and tell who James Byrd was and what James Byrd was, because James Byrd wasn’t the pillar of the community that they make him out to be.”
“I think you ought to be judged by the way you live, not the way you die.”
“I don’t think he ought to be put up as a role model for our children.”
Some white residents stated that they don’t feel that Jasper has any more racism than anywhere else in the US. Going as far as to say that black people, no matter where you go, will always feel that the town/city they are in is racist. Arguably, the second part of this statement is likely true, but not in the way that this man intended. The same man goes on to tell the cameras how he was raised to say “hi” and “bye” to black people, but no more than that.
Scarily, we see the same optimism that times are changing; that the incident is “bringing things to light”, a statement that I’ve been hearing a lot since the murder of George Floyd. The reason I describe this as scary is because while things are changing, they are doing so at an incredibly slow pace. We also hear black members of the community expressing the fact that when similar instances have happened in the past, just within Jasper, they weren’t allowed to talk about it out of fear of being silenced.
Small changes do begin to take place within this small town. We see the joining of black and white churches in an effort to unify the community. Residents share how they feel that the two communities had made more of an effort to come together since the murder of James Byrd Jr. We even see the graveyard having its segregation fence removed, with members of the community questioning whether the burial practices will change as well.
We follow each of the trials of the three men and hear from the black and white community members about their views, including the families of the victim and his murderers. When the guilty verdicts are announced, we see John King leaving the courtroom with a smile on his face. He would later write a letter to Brewer stating:
“Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history. Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!”
Throughout the trials, we see white members of the community stating that people are more easily offended; that words such as the N-word were never used in a derogatory fashion, or that somebody having racist tattoos doesn’t indicate racist beliefs. Again, this is something we still see within our society today. People’s blatantly racist attitudes are often dressed up as “jokes”, and while I believe free speech is important, white people shouldn’t get to decide what is considered racist and what isn’t.
All three were convicted of capital murder. Berry was sentenced to life in prison, Brewer received lethal injection on 21st September 2011, and King was executed by lethal injection on 24th April 2019.
Scene 3 – George Stinney Jr
As you likely recall, story 3 showed a young boy being accused by his community. He was judged by a white jury and given the death penalty. Ultimately facing the electric chair in the company of just a policeman and a priest.
George Stinney was a 14-year-old boy living in Alcolu, South Carolina with his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters. On 24th March 1944, George and his sister, Aimé, were playing in the garden when two girls walked past. They asked George and Aimé if they knew where to find “maypops”, the local name of a purple passionflower.
The next day, the bodies of the two girls were found in a shallow ditch with blunt-force trauma to their heads. They were aged 7 and 11. For no other reason than having spoken to them the day before, George Stinney and his brother were arrested. Johnny, George’s older brother, was let go by police. However, George was not so lucky, and everything just got worse from there. He was ultimately found guilty of the murders and was sentenced to death. Here are just some of the insane aspects of this trial:
- Aimé stated that she had been with George during the window that police had clai,ed the murders had likely occurred.
- There were different reports surrounding the weapon used by the murderer, with one stating it was a blunt weapon, like a hammer, and another stating it was a railroad spike.
- No written or recorded confession from George Stinney exists.
- In court, two police officers provided contradictory statements about George Stinney’s confession.
- George had been questioned without his parents or an attorney being present.
- After his arrest, George didn’t see his parents again until his trial, and he had no support of any kind during the 81-day period between his arrest and the end of his trial.
- The entire trial proceedings took less than a day, including jury selection. The jury was made up entirely of white men, as black people didn’t have the right to vote and therefore couldn’t be selected for jury duty.
- George’s defence counsel (court appointed) didn’t call a single witness and didn’t question the police officer’s, whose testimonies of George’s confession were the only evidence against him. Similarly, he didn’t challenge the prosecution’s presentation of different versions of events on the day of the murder, including two entirely different motivations for George’s decision to murder the two girls. One of these stated he’d done so in self-defence.
- There was literally no physical evidence linking George to either of the murders.
- Only six witnesses were called to give testimonies: three police officers, the two doctors responsible for the post-mortems, and a local Reverend who had discovered the bodies.
- The court allowed rape to be discussed as a possible motive, despite the fact that neither post-mortem had suggested any evidence of this.
- The entire trial presentation lasted 2.5 hours.
- The jury came to a decision in less than 10 minutes.
- No appeal was filed in George’s defence.
- There is no transcript from the trial.
- George was sentenced to death by electric chair.
- In a letter, the Governor of South Carolina would later accuse George Stinney of killing one girl so he could kill and rape the other, later returning to rape her again but stopping because the body was too cold. Of course, there was zero evidence to support any of these accusations.
On 16th June 1944, George Stinney Jr became the youngest person to be executed in the United States in the 20th century, and the youngest person executed by the electric chair in the United States ever. This poor child was only 5ft 1 and weighed only 90lbs. He was so small that the executioners had to place a Bible on the electric chair for George to sit on. Apparently, George had carried a Bible with him throughout his trial and time in prison. The black hood which was covering his face was too big, and so when the electrical current was turned on, it fell off and revealed his tear-soaked face. In the end, he was buried in an unmarked grave.
70 years after the execution/murder of George Stinney Jr, a group of people collaborated to have him exonerated. This included a local historian, South Carolina lawyers, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) and Northeastern University of Law.
Furthermore, one of the lawyers stated that an individual had confessed to the murders on his deathbed. This man came from a prominent, white family whose members included those on the initial coroner’s inquest jury who had pushed the guilty verdict of George Stinney Jr. An affidavit was also introduced from Reverend Francis Batson, the man who had found the bodies of the two girls. He had claimed that upon finding them, he’d noticed a distinct lack of blood around the ditch, suggesting that it was more likely that the girls had been murdered elsewhere and then dumped in the ditch afterwards
The End of the Video
As the video nears its end, we see the painter throw his brush down in anger. These injustices have understandably enraged him. In this moment, we see the victims of the previous story rising up. The idea of victims of racism, discrimination, injustice e.g. the black community, rising up is something that terrifies their oppressors. I’ve genuinely heard gammons talk about how they think black people are trying to start a race war. Generally speaking, it’s the white racists who want the race war, not the black victims. Victims of racism just want to bring an end to this type of systemic injustice and tolerated hate. They just want to feel safe in their communities, for their children to live full lives, and for the police to protect them just as much as any other race or group.
In my opinion, the rising up of victims at the end of this video doesn’t represent a vengeful spirit (at least not outside the fact that this is a trailer for Candyman (2020)). It symbolizes moments that force change. Each of the injustices told within this story cut the painter deeper and deeper, until he simply can’t handle any more. The victims rise up, not against white people, but against those who would seek to protect unjust and racist systems. They rise up because the society has failed them in every way. They rise up because what other option is there?
Ultimately, I feel like this short video draws attention to very real and terrifying issues. Some of the events it references may have taken place in 1944 and 1998, and the time difference may show that certain aspects of systemic racism have changed…but they still exist! Progress is slow, and some people are happy in the knowledge that change is taking place. But at what cost? Slow progress allows more people to fall victim to a barely changing cancer that grows within our society. We need to be aware, we need to challenge, and we need to make change happen. Otherwise, the blood of those who die within the society we describe as being “developed” is ultimately on our hands!
Thanks for reading! Please be the change you wish to see in the world!
Don’t forget to follow me on here and on Twitter to stay up to date with my posts!
If you have anything to add or perhaps a suggestion for a future post, leave a comment!