‘The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’ Director and Cast on Crafting a New Kind of Creature [SXSW 2023 Interview]
Director Bomani J. Story has emerged at SXSW this year as a newly minted auteur (even though he’s not ready for his cast to refer to him that way just yet). Just when horror fans thought the genre might be getting a little stale, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster brings a much-needed jolt. This is a new take on Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein myth that reframes it to explore ideas surrounding gun violence, sociopolitical injustice, and a white-washed educational system made by the culture that’s experiencing that inequality.
After the loss of her brother Chris, wunderkind Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) becomes a mad scientist of sorts that’s determined to prove a controversial theory: Death is a disease that can be cured. She succeeds in resurrecting her brother who immediately turns around and starts taking out every bad element in the neighborhood in a brutal fashion. All Vicaria wanted to do was save her family. Ultimately, she may have put them in even more danger.
At SXSW this year, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with filmmaker Bomani J. Story, Laya Hayes, Chad Coleman of The Walking Dead fame, and Denzel Whitaker about their new take on a genre classic, the scariest scenes for each of them to film, and helping to redefine the term “monster.”
Dread Central: When was the first time you read Frankenstein?
Bomani J. Story: I read it for the first time when I was fresh out of high school and it gave me an anxiety attack. It’s incredible literature. I feel like people that haven’t revisited it and haven’t really read it think they understand the story but they really don’t … Victor is Frankenstein and the story really is about Victor.
DC: When was the first time you all were introduced to Frankenstein?
CC: Mine was more so The Elephant Man. That was the one that I was really attached to. But Frankenstein, really from … was it Mel Brooks? The comedy was where I … my relationship with it was in that area. The connectivity that you have and how profound it is, I wasn’t catching that young. I was more with the fun and send-up side.
DC: For you Bomani, where did the idea originate to actually do the fresh take on the legend of Frankenstein?
BJS: It was a process. When I first read in high school, I was like Oh, I’ve got to do something with this. This is incredible work. But I didn’t know what. And I knew back then that I had to do something fascinating because I feel like it’s a novel that’s not explored as much. There are so many parts of it that aren’t explored. As time went on, it started to reveal itself, you know, seeing things in the news. Mainly my two big sisters were always kind of mentoring me throughout my life and I started modeling this character. There are scenes where it’s just complete lines that they’ve said to me about what’s happened to them.
DC: They’re the mad scientists in your life.
BJS: Yeah! So that was the process of what it became and also the cultural impact. Being from the culture, there was just a lot of things that just made sense, especially after reading the book. There are so many elements in it that make complete sense thematically. And the story obviously takes huge thematic swings. One thing I remember from the book, I believe there’s a part where the monster starts speaking about how messed up the colonizers are being to the indigenous people. The Monster speaks about that. The book is very profound.
DC: One of the key themes in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is that you can become what people say you are. If you’re called a monster from every angle of society, then maybe you’re going to end up behaving like one. Do you all agree with that? Denzel, your character Kango could be looked at as a monster before the real horror starts.
Denzel Whittaker: Absolutely. It’s interesting you say that because, I mean, circumstantially with Kango, especially in his environment, that was one of the things that Bomani and I were very adamant about cracking is why does Kango act the way he does? And why does he have so much grace towards Vicaria’s character? Why is he so lenient with her behavior? And that’s because Kango, he’s raised by his OGs. We’ve created a whole entire backstory because this is the community he knows. So even though, yes, he is distributing this quote-unquote poison into the community, it’s also this is his family. He’s getting people employed. If someone were to come in and infiltrate that community, he’s one of the first to step up, him and his crew.
But everybody around him calls him this thug, this criminal, this assassin upon society. Especially the outlook that Vicaria’s character and Kango have from the jump, he is painted as the bad man. So he wears that on his shoulders, unfortunately. He has to take that burden.
DC: Do you think The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster gave you the opportunity to redefine the term “monster?”
BJS: Yeah. The mark of a great horror movie is when you’re able to walk away from it with something that scares you. For instance, Jaws after you watch it, you’re afraid to swim in the ocean. Or The Descent, you don’t want to go cave diving. That’s the real thing you take with you that’s actual horror. To me, one of the elements I wanted to achieve with this movie—an actual horrific thing—is if someone calls you something like a “monster” or whatever and disrespects you, you know, or something as simple as “stupid” and you believe it, that’s a very horrifying situation to be in. That was something that I wanted to live after this. For people to be like you shouldn’t believe that. You shouldn’t buy into that. It’s important.
DC: The secret lab was incredible. Laya, it must have been fun for you to go in and interact and play with everything in there.
Laya Hayes: So much fun. As an actor, when you get into character and when you get onto set, that’s when it really feels real. Every detail, especially in that lab, was just so well done. The way that it’s also put on screen and how beautiful it looks, that’s a testament to Ms. Daphne [Qin Wu, cinematographer]. In a lot of ways, that’s Vicaria’s safe haven. For it to look the way it did and then to be able to also feel that way just being in the room was really special.
DC: You let out some incredible, blood-curdling screams in this. Did you know you had that in you? Your scream is next level.
LH: I do have a background in voiceover so I was used to doing it over and over again in the studio. But honestly, Chris scared me! A lot of the circumstances, even with Denzel, when we were in that red room for an entire day trying to stab his hand, you feel the energy and then you play off of it.
Look for more of the conversation with the director and cast of The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster closer to the film’s official release.