A Contemporary Prometheus in The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
Bomani J. Story retells Frankenstein as a Black horror
By Dex Wesley Parra,
7:00AM, Sat. Mar. 11, 2023
Death is a disease. At least, that’s how the heroine of SXSW selection The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster views it.
Her mother caught the virus of Fate when she was younger. The opening shot of the movie shows her brother sprawled across the lawn, bullet wounds still fresh, another victim of the sickness that follows fiery teenager Vicaria everywhere she goes. But, diseases can be cured, and that’s precisely what Vicaria sets out to do when she drags her brother’s corpse offscreen. She’ll stop at nothing until she can laugh maniacally and exclaim, “He’s alive! Aliiiive!”
Like a mad scientist, Bomani J. Story, writer and director of Angry Black Girl, reanimates Mary Shelley’s classic tale in a modern homage to the book that still haunts him. “I read Frankenstein when I was 18 or 19," he said, "and I remember having a damn anxiety attack, but I couldn’t put it down."
In his version, Enlightenment-era scientist Victor Frankenstein translates to quick-witted Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a brilliant thinker whose distaste for authority clashes with her Karen-esque schoolteacher. Story credits his two older sisters as inspiration for Vicaria’s misunderstood genius.
That this story captures something deeply personal for the filmmaker also owes to his profound love of horror cinema and its masters. “I lifted that line, [‘Death is a disease,’] from one of my favorite movies, The Fountain, to pay homage to [Darren] Aronofsky,” Story said before delving into the influence of Lars Von Trier, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and Austin’s own The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. At the mention of David Lynch, he couldn’t help but rave over the Twin Peaks creator’s impact on the film’s surrealistic editing.
A graduate of University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program, in 2018 Story both the narrative feature jury and audience awards at Slamdance Film Festival as screenwriter for college romp “Rock Steady Row.” Now in the director’s chair, Story said this horror-drama has been a long time coming. “I've been holding on to the script since 2018, but I had the idea since like 2008. While the script was being pushed around, it was getting rejected a lot, and it spent a lot of time in purgatory. Then, weirdly enough, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, Crypt TV found interest in it.”
On top of a production partner in Crypt TV, the film was now been acquired by distributor RLJE Films and slasher heavyweight streamer Shudder. The attention from these scary movie platforms speaks to a new wave of interest in material that blends genre convention with social commentary. Think Jordan Peele’s Get Out or the Sundance 2022 grand jury prize winner, Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny.
Make no mistake, Angry Black Girl oozes, bleeds, and frightens. Story said, “Frankenstein has always been a horror story, but there are certain tools that I felt weren't being used considering the journey the monster goes through.”
The film is also grounded as a family drama, a coming-of-age narrative, and a community tale of mourning and healing. “You have to talk about all the angles,” Story said about Black-centered art. “You can't just talk about glorifying what we're doing, you also have to talk about the pain. You also have to talk about the joy.” One standout sequence halfway through the movie takes place at a dinner table, just neighbors breaking bread and sharing laughs. Yet, Story said, “That was a really important scene, and one of the scariest to film.”
Visions, World PremiereSat 11, 5:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thu 16, 7 & 7:30pm, Violet Crown