'The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster' Reinvents Frankenstein for a Modern Audience
June 6, 2023
A teenage girl’s desire to fit in. A broken family. A hideous monster. I’m talking about the story of Frankenstein that was written by Mary Shelley when she was just 19-years-old. Published in 1818, her novel has been the inspiration for dozens of films over the last 100+ years and continues to find new audiences as filmmakers find new avenues into the shocking tale that remains surprisingly relevant two centuries later.
Inspiration for the Modern Retelling of a Classic
Writer/director Bomani J. Story has added his latest film, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, to the Frankenstein canon. It’s a powerful, visceral, thought-provoking addition that needs to be seen. I chatted with Story over Zoom about the film and to find out about taking inspiration from such a popular story and the challenges of working within the horror genre.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is about an urban teenage girl, Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), who uses her scientific aptitude to bring her murdered brother back to life. But playing God has its consequences and that’s part of the original story’s appeal. Story says he was excited to delve into that moral and ethical debate with a large focus on Vicaria, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired character, and less on the monster itself.
“Everyone gets caught up in the monster and the monster is a very interesting character. But the story is called Frankenstein. It’s Victor Frankenstein’s story, his rise and downfall and his journey. I wanted to bring all of that back,” says Story about creating the character of Vicaria.
“I wanted to ground this mad scientist and show it in a new light – that was a huge goal for me. I wanted to humanize Vicaria, to make her feel like a girl you would see in class. Just like I saw growing up, or like one of my sisters that I grew up with. She's this human who happens to be really smart – not someone who's really smart, who happens to be human.”
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Drawing Story From Real Life
Part of being human is experiencing loss and death, something Vicaria knows all too well after losing both her brother and her mother. Consumed by his own grief, Vicaria’s father, Donald (Chad L. Coleman), uses street drugs to numb his pain, sending him down a dangerous path that’s further breaking his daughter’s heart and adding to the conflict in the story.
“People that are close to you hurt you the most because we're so vulnerable and open to them, you know what I mean?” says Story. “So even the slightest disappointment, no matter how big or how small, it stinks because our heart is so open to our loved ones and the ones close to us. It's a journey to come through that for his daughter.”
Getting to see Vicaria go on that journey with her flawed father really helps motivate her character. Tragedy is all around her and the people who are supposed to take care of her are either dead or on drugs so it’s no surprise she’s willing to go to desperate measures, i.e.: create a monster from a corpse. We may not agree with what she’s doing, but we know why she’s doing it – that’s great writing.
Read More: The Horror Spec: How to Write a Horror Movie
Working Within a Budget
Another challenge in making this film came from trying to adapt the famous story into the modern horror genre while keeping it fresh on a limited budget. Story acknowledges there are certain rules horror movies have to follow.
“I like to call them guidelines…I do reference the [horror movies] that I love and the things that creeped me out. There are certain elements of horror that I wanted to stay away from because I felt like certain things are being used quite a lot these days. For me, it was more trying to find different weaponry for horror,” says Story.
One of his favorite horror movies is the classic slasher Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “They had these grating sounds every time they would cut to something, and I wanted to exercise that one because I felt like that's not really being used,” he says.
And of course, there had to be gore – it’s a Frankenstein movie, after all. “I feel like you’re being disingenuous when you don’t [have enough gore] because they’re trafficking in corpses. Gore is going to be a part of that,” he says.
Everyone Loves a Jump Scare
But a good horror movie is about more than blood, scary monsters and jump scares. There has to be thematic substance.
“One of the things I love about Black Christmas, the original one, there's what people don't realize or people don't talk about. An abortion debate is happening in the middle of that movie. Pro-choice, pro-life or whatever, a debate is happening in the middle of that movie. And that movie was made in the ‘70s I believe, right? The commentary of that movie is there, mixed in with the horror of this guy living in this sorority house and knocking him off. I adored that there's that drama and social commentary wrapped inside this horror.”
In Angry Black Girl, Vicaria is incredibly intelligent, but society, her teachers, the police and especially her family have all let her down. She has no one to support her or look out for her. It makes sense that she would create a creature, a monster from her brother’s corpse to take care of her. Her actions get at one of the story’s themes: When society and family break down, how does one cope with the pain and loneliness of life?
Story knows you can’t push theme too hard in a movie and likens it to putting medicine inside a candy bar.
“I think you can't tell a Frankenstein story without having strong thematics in people's face. That's just what the story is like. That's what's happening. They're talking about God, they're talking about man versus God. They're talking about life, they're talking about death. These are big things in your face. When I tell this story, I understand that some people get turned off by that kind of stuff but this is what Frankenstein is. So just put that medicine inside the Snickers Bar, right? Like, ‘How did that sneak in?’”
His advice to horror writers is straightforward. “I think it’s just finding what you're passionate about and finding what's important to you. For me social commentary is great, but something can also just be about your mother or your brother, you know what I mean? Or just how you feel about something. Finding what means something to you that gets you emotionally going. I think searching for that and then finding the genre space of its horror, and understanding how to wrap it in there.”
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster opens in theaters June 9.
Written by: Shanee EdwardsShanee Edwards is an L.A.-based screenwriter, journalist and novelist who recently won The Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer and was honored to be mentored by actress/producers America Ferrera. Shanee's first novel, Ada Lovelace: The Countess Who Dreamed in Numbers was published by Conrad Press in 2019. Currently, she is working on a biopic of controversial nurse Florence Nightingale. Shanee’s ultimate goal is to tell stories about strong, spirited women whose passion, humor and courage inspire us all.