Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, HBCU Buzz, and Universal Pictures commissioned six HBCU student artists to create murals based on Monkeypaw’s latest film production, “Candyman.” Students were given one week to complete a painting that encouraged discussions surrounding Black people’s art which is often inspired by painful realities.
The movie was released on Aug. 27 by co-writer and director Nia DaCosta who recently became the first Black woman to have a number one film in the weekend box office, according to Deadline. It follows Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a Chicago born and based painter, who uses the details of the Candyman urban legend to drive his latest project and, unintentionally, opens the door to a string of violent crimes and questionable mental stability for the artist.
Students were challenged to bring the central theme of this film to life. Some themes of the paintings are self-segregation and classism, generational trauma and the effects of adverse childhood experiences on Black youth.
“The Universal and MonkeyPaw creative teams put together a packet of resources including the trailer to the film, a one sheet movie synopsis, a Juneteenth message from the director and a link to a shadow puppet piece,” said Kendall Robinson, a senior painting major and the student council president of the Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University.
Students received $1,000 for their murals, up to $250 in assistance for art supplies and additional resources to aid in completing their masterpieces.
Chloe Williams, a sophomore fine arts major at Norfolk State University, displayed the connections of trauma and police brutality from both the original and latest versions of “Candyman” in her piece, “Transference,” in order to spark a conversation about healing in the Black community.
“I really wanted for people to dig in deeper into their emotions and really bring up some things that were never talked about… We don’t really talk about our pain amongst each other… and we need healing as a community… in order for a lot of growth to happen,” Williams said.
Conversations about mental health are becoming increasingly important as mental health disorders worsen, according to Banyan Mental Health. Out of all Black or African American adults only 16.9% use mental health services.
This heavily influenced Donielle Pankey, a senior studio arts major at Tennessee State University who chose to explore how Black people’s unwillingness to address generational trauma allows us to constantly wear our pain in her piece, “Everlasting Pain.”
“We carry that pain on us, like, daily, and it comes to a point where that story just becomes a part of us,” she said. Through her mural, she wants Black people to know, “We are not the labels that are put on us.”
Haley Wilson, a sophomore fine arts major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, shined a light on adverse childhood experiences Black youth endure in her piece, “The Hive,” a timely topic of discussion as 9.7% of U.S. youth deal with major severe depression. Not only does Wilson explore the topic of adverse experiences for youth in her painting, she also combats this issue in her personal life and views art as an outlet to manage mental health issues.
“I feel like art is just a good outlet to get out any aggression, any anxiety… it’s just a better way to deal with problems,” said Wilson. She previously mentored students and assisted staff at her former after school arts program, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, a program for underprivileged youth, and she hopes to start her own program for Black youth in the arts.
Though they had to manage school, work and various responsibilities while completing their painting in one week, students were still grateful to have been chosen amongst many for this opportunity that allowed their artwork to be present across their campuses.
“I thought, ‘wow, this is what I’ve been praying for this whole year,’” said April Lacey, a junior fine arts major at Fisk University.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity… It helped get my name out there on campus,” said Ja’Marcus Willis, a junior visual performing arts major at Grambling State University.
This opportunity put a lot of up and coming artists on a larger platform at an early stage in their career.
“This will be a moment that I’ll never forget,” said Pankey.