Since 1992, Clive Barker’s urban folk horror Candyman has been a staple in highlighting racial injustice in the genre.
However, what the film also does well, perhaps even better, is highlight the cost of white ignorance in the relationship between fellow grad students, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons).
Bernadette Walsh is a young, privileged woman of color.
In fact, she is the only other woman of color shown in a definitive position of power in the film.
Whereas other women of color are presented in either a servile or destitute fashion, she is a graduate student —Getting a degree that should, in the best case scenario, catapult her into a socioeconomic level far above the one she comfortably leads (or seems to).
Put more simply, she’s able to sustain a lifestyle that allows her to live in a state of content on a daily basis.
That keeps her safe, protected, well fed and well-dressed.
But it’s when Helen Lyle turns into an obsessed pseudo-ethnographer, carelessly seeking ‘truth’ in the wrong part of town, at the darkest hours of night, disrespectfully appropriating a way of life she cannot grasp, claiming the legacy of its pain for her own selfish financial and academic pursuits, and intruding into spaces uninvited, as if people didn’t live there — But rather were inanimate objects in a museum, that she and Bernadette become terrible guests, and Bernadette pays the price.
(Yes, the burden also falls on Bernadette who sort of just goes along with it.)
Like all of these women, whose lives and stories become a fleeting image in one of Helen’s shots or recordings, Bernadette’s comfort is a mere after thought.
Imagine taking your girlfriend to a party and walking away when she gets drunk in a crowd full of strangers — Knowing full well she doesn’t handle her liquor well. If at all.
Helen has brought them into a world where a new danger persists around every corner. But for Bernadette, the peril is just a tad bit stronger because there is the illusion of her experience with danger.