By MICHAEL GINGOLD
More than 200 years after its publication, Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN and its themes continue to inspire filmmakers to take them into new areas. The latest example is THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER, whose title indicates up front the fresh approach taken by writer/director Bomani J. Story.
Opening in select theaters today from RLJE Films, then coming to VOD and digital platforms June 23 and streaming on ALLBlk and Shudder at a later date, ANGRY BLACK GIRL stars Laya DeLeon Hayes as scientifically gifted 17-year-old Vicaria. Her mother became a victim of neighborhood violence when she was a child, and Vicaria has become determined to prove that death is curable. She gets a chance when her brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy) is also murdered, but bringing back the dead has the inevitable complications and frightening results. RUE MORGUE spoke to Story and Hayes (see the first part of that interview here) just before the movie’s world premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
Beyond the influences you took from FRANKENSTEIN, were there any personal experiences that informed the way you approached this story or the lead character?
BOMANI J. STORY: For me, it had to be my older sisters, who were a big part of my life growing up, and capturing their essence was really important to me when writing this story. That was probably one of the biggest experiences and influences I had for this movie, trying to capture their humanity within the character of Vicaria. That was crucial to me, and a well of inspiration throughout this project, with all the weird shit Vicaria is doing [laughs].
LAYA DeLEON HAYES: For me, the minute I even got the audition and saw the character description for Vicaria, I felt like there was something about her I could relate to. I mean, for anybody who has been put in that community, and who has seen people who have lived in a community like Vicaria’s, there are things I think anybody could really relate to and that would resonate with them, and that’s what I got immediately off the script.
One interesting aspect of the film is that it’s set in a community where there’s already a lot of danger even before the monster becomes a threat, so can you talk about that side of it?
STORY: It was important to me to explore what systemic pressure causes, and what that type of pressure will do, and to also utilize that as a catalyst to show Vicaria standing on her own two feet to try to face off against this thing. Especially when she says, “Fuck the system,” because that’s the thing that’s causing all of this, and how do we find a way to get around it? To me, one element of being Black in America is having to deal with systemic pressure, and us figuring out ways to overcome it. That’s an unfortunate thing we have to deal with, and we always have to find a way to survive and thrive and get around it.
And how about the character of Chris, the monster, who acts out violently, but has a specific set of reasons for doing so?
STORY: To me, when it comes to horror, I always try to find something that can live offscreen. Like JAWS, after you watch it, you don’t want to swim in the ocean, or after THE DESCENT, you don’t really want to go cave-diving [laughs]. Those deal with real things that you’re actually scared of; the monsters aside, you don’t want to be stuck in a small crevice like that. And my approach with Chris was, what’s scary is that if somebody calls you something and you believe it, that’s a horrifying place to be in. Something as simple as someone calling you stupid, and then you think you’re stupid your whole life. And with Chris, obviously, they call him a monster, and he takes to that, and that’s a horrifying situation to be in.
HAYES: I really liked where Bomani went with that. If you tell someone something, especially at a very young age, and then they carry that with them for the rest of their life, that’s a horrifying thing. I feel like that kind of plays into that mental death idea that we also explore in the film, how that sort of idea can be planted at a young age, or whenever in your life, and you have to live with that. And that mental death, a lot of the time, holds us back from doing things we want to do, those certain judgments or prejudices that we hold against people. And again, it all goes into that same systemic pressure. We even played with that during the rehearsal process, because I couldn’t fully understand certain things about Vicaria and Chris’ situation and their relationship; it was hard to wrap my brain around it. And exactly what Bomani said, when you tell someone something and they believe it, and how that turns them into the person they end up being, is really interesting, and I’m glad we got to deal with that in the film.
Where did you shoot the movie, and how was it working on those locations?
STORY: We were in Charlotte, North Carolina, and there was great barbecue [laughs]–it was awesome!
HAYES: The set catering, the lunch every day, was amazing!
STORY: I mean, obviously every location has its challenges, and dealing with the Carolina heat and humidity, that was crazy, but I had a great time out there. We had a local crew who were really involved with the production, so that was great. North Carolina and Charlotte really supported us to get this film made.
Can you talk about putting together Vicaria’s lab, and working with all that equipment?
STORY: That was due to my production designer, Mark Bankins, and his team. He did a fantastic job of putting that lab together, and it was remarkable to see the level of detail he put into that set. When I was talking to him, I was like, “This lab cannot look like she has a million dollars; it needs to look like she put it together from shit she found in a dumpster.” It couldn’t be this crazy expensive lab; that’s not what’s going on here. So he took that and ran with it, and I’ve got to say that I wish I’d had more time to kind of get obnoxious with the close-ups in that place, you know [laughs]?
HAYES: That was my favorite set to be in. There were so many little trinkets that I’m not sure you can even see fully in the movie, but there was just so much detail in that room, and it was fun being able to play alongside those things. They made it so easy, because it was all right there, so shout-out to that team.
What do you think it is about the story of FRANKENSTEIN that has endured for so long, and lent itself to so many different interpretations?
STORY: One, Mary Shelley’s a genius, and I believe there are certain elements in there that connect us all, that I feel you can’t escape. The idea of life and death is something that all humans have to face, no matter what. You can reject it or ignore it, or you can engage with it, but the fact of the matter is, we all have to face this. And that is something that is very potent. Also the idea of being dehumanized, the way the monster is in the book; how he’s treated is another side of humanity that people have to deal with. These are themes that have been current amongst humanity forever, and that’s one of the reasons why the book has lasted so long. And it plays within the horror genre, which is always around, whether people disrespect it or adore it. It’s a consistent kind of tale, whether you’re telling a spooky story around a fire, or you’re doing it in books or movies or even video games. Whatever your paintbrush might be, it’s something that’s timeless, and that particular book. has so many timeless elements that it’s hard for it to go out of fashion.
HAYES: I agree with Bomani, and I love that with THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER, he was able to give it a modern spin. I mean, to put a 17-year-old Black girl in the lead of this story… It’s still that classic tale and it can be traditional, but there’s also so much that you can do with it, and that leans into how timeless it is, and again, like Bomani said, Mary Shelley’s genius while writing it.