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‘It’s Just Been a Blessing’: ‘Candyman’ Star Vanessa Williams Talks Challenging Black Narratives and Starring on ‘9-1-1’

Vanessa A. Williams reprised her role as Ann-Marie in the Jordan Peele-written remake of “Candyman.” The Nia DaCosta-directed movie raked in roughly $22.3 million its initial domestic weekend, making history by becoming the first film directed by a Black woman to open No. 1 at the domestic box office.

Viewers remember Anne-Marie as a Black single mother and resident of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex in the 1992 original “Candyman.” After Tony Todd’s character of the same name kidnaps her baby, a white graduate student, Helen (Virginia Madsen), searching for the horror legend saves the day.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA – AUGUST 23: Actress Vanessa Williams attends the Television Academy’s cocktail reception with the Stars of Daytime Television, celebrating The 69th Emmy Awards at Saban Media Center on August 23, 2017 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

ABS sat down with Vanessa A. Williams to chat about her evolution since the original “Candyman” and challenging Black narratives. She appreciates DaCosta’s ability to tell a “scary, traumatic story” without diminishing Black trauma. 

“It changed the narrative completely and put the onus and responsibility and sort of the terror in the way that black people experience terror,” said Williams of DaCosta’s “soulful sequel.”

“The way she shot it through compact, we see the murders and everything. People get killed, and she pulls away. All of those things were very intentional and about not trying to retraumatize a population of people who are already living through so much trauma and this history of trauma.”

The “New Jack City” actress enjoys films and series that cater to the Black experience, no matter know traumatic or familial it seems. She said she learned from watching Hollywood legends such as the late Cicely Tyson and her “Soul Food” co-star Diahann Carroll.

“I was a little girl watching ‘Sounder’ and watching her move and then learning her great, great life in the theater,” the Brooklyn native explained. “And it was Diahann Carroll. When she came to the ‘Soul Food’ set, we were literally in her dressing room, sitting at her knee, getting all these stories about what it was like working with Sidney [Portier], what it was like being on those sets with [theatre and film director] Otto Preminger and just working your way through the Hollywood experience at a time where our beauty wasn’t accepted.”

Williams said she’s enjoyed having “master class” from fellow acting vets who influence her to inspire others.  

“Certainly that’s what I tried to impart to these young actors, saying, ‘I got you, I see you, you doing it, and let’s do this together,'” she continued. “It’s just so marvelous that there’s so many more opportunities [and] that we’re at the helm of these opportunities in many, many spaces.”

Vanessa Estelle Williams stars in Fox’s “9-1-1” drama. (Photo: @9110nfox/Instagram)

Williams added, “To see that move forward where we’ve got wonderful examples of sisters like Issa Rae, just doing what’s necessary it to be in charge of our narrative. So all these marvelous examples that get to inspire us of all ranks in the industry.”

The 58-year-old gets to continue inspiring others with her latest recurring role in Fox’s drama series, “9-1-1” alongside Angela Bassett and Rockmond Dunbar, who played Williams’ husband on “Soul Food.”

To play a call center veteran, Williams sought advice from her sister-in-law, who worked as a 911 dispatcher in New York during the 9/11 attacks.

“I got thrown into the mix, and it’s all this very, very specific dispatch dialogue that’s not regular speak. This is how dispatchers and police people speak to each other and … it was crazy, crazy, crazy,” she said. “And not only was it a new sort of language, she was supposed to be the expert, so much so that she [doesn’t] wear a uniform. She got all this clout. So I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ But it’s like being thrown into the fire is a great challenge.”

Williams added, “I’m hoping to get to work with Angela. I [was] hoping to get to work with Rockmond. But he’s recently left, so he let me know that he and I wouldn’t be onscreen together in that project. But it’s just been a blessing.

“9-1-1” returns with new back-to-back episodes in March.


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