‘The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster’ Is A Chilling and Unique Take On A Classic Tale [SXSW 2023]

The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a timeless tale that’s been adapted ad nauseam since the book was originally published in 1818. From the 1931 horror classic to NAME’s Sundance debut birth/rebirth, countless artists have taken Shelley’s tale about resurrection and mortality and filtered it through their own lens. Now, director Bomani J. Story offers his new version of Frankenstein in his feature film debut The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.

Here, our mad scientist is Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) an ingenious Black teenager who thinks that death is a disease that she can cure. She lives in low-income housing with drug dealer neighbors and a drug-addicted father and attends a private school with primarily white students. No matter where she goes, Vicaria is an outsider, seen as too uppity by her neighbors and as too Black by her peers. But that doesn’t bother Vicaria because she has a singular goal: resurrect her brother who was recently killed by police officers.

From the get-go, Story establishes that The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is about specifically Black traumas that stem from police brutality, income disparity, and the overall racist systems that govern society. The film even starts with Vicaria sharing all of the death she’s experienced in her short life, from the passing of her mother to the tragic death of her brother. So her form of grief manifests as a determination that death is a disease. She actively refutes systems of oppression as a cause for death; such a belief would remove any sense of control Vicaria imagines she has in fixing her family’s lives.

Her core reasoning for such a project is already tragic, but that tragedy only compounds as her experiment proceeds. Her successfully resurrected brother is no longer himself. Dead for too long, he’s a silent hulking presence, unable to communicate with anything but violence. Vicaria is immediately terrified and must grapple with what she’s brought into this world.

Hayes shines as Vicaria in this film. She oozes the naive confidence of a smart young woman who believes she has all the answers. So when there’s fear in her eyes, you know it’s time to be terrified. Her performance alone proves that there are still so many fascinating possibilities for the character Frankenstein that don’t involve an emotional, rich white man wallowing in his privileged sorrows. With The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, Story further raises the stakes of the classic story with a young Black girl struggling against systemic oppression. It’s a shining example of how to make such a well-known narrative feel unique, prescient, and urgent. With Hayes, Story takes the overwhelming white story of Frankenstein and places it within an important cultural context.

However, the narrative does stumble when it comes to the monster. Shelley’s original novel imbues the monster with humanity and empathy, but here, Story leaves the creature as a violent force of evil. He only perpetuates the violence that Vicaria is trying to avoid, becoming her worst nightmare. While that is fascinating, it’s not interrogated enough, leading him to become an unfortunately two-dimensional creature.

Overall, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is a difficult watch with an important message and a star-making central performance for Laya DeLeon Hayes. While Story packs in almost too much trauma, this is an essential piece of contemporary horror cinema that shows what happens when Black creators are given the space to tell their stories.

3.5

Summary

Bromani J. Story’s take on ‘Frankenstein’ is devastating but crucial in showing how classic tales can be effectively brought into a modern context.

Share: 

Categorized:

Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter