It's no secret that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of horror's canonical source texts, and Frankenstein's Creature is one of our classic monsters. In a genre known for adaptations, franchises, remakes, and plain old derivation, Frankenstein is ubiquitous, and its progeny as irreverent as the Creature itself. But what unites these adaptations- from I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and Frankenhooker (a personal favorite) to Blackenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show- is the core question that lingers from Shelley's 1818 novel: who is the real monster? The Creature or the creator?
Bomani Story's The Angry Black Girl & Her Monster is, per this question, no different than any other Frankenstein retelling. As for how the question is framed, however, it's utterly unique. Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes), a brilliant and grieving teenager, is sick of witnessing death and absorbing its impact. Deciding that "death is a disease," she sets out to invent a cure and succeeds—but not without terrible consequences.
FANGORIA caught up with writer-director Bomani Story and cast members Laya DeLeon Hayes, Chad Coleman, and Denzel Whitaker to talk about Dr. Frankenstein as a teen girl confronting the specter of Black monstrosity and the real remedy to death.
So The Angry Black Girl & Her Monster is definitely a new telling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Were you all fans of the novel beforehand?
Bomani Story: I mean, I have big fan energy. Big, big fan energy for Frankenstein. Big lit head over here.
Laya Hayes: I hadn't read it before I took on the project, but after reading it, huge fan. Huge, huge fan.
Denzel Whitaker: Much respect to the original [novel and film adaptations] and the character. Absolutely. I hadn't read the original novel myself, but definitely a fan. How can you not be?
Chad Coleman: It's such an iconic character. You know, it's a part of American culture for sure. So very much aware of it in many different iterations, from the television show, The Munsters, to the spoofs of it as well.
Bomani, what was the conception process like? Did the choice to adapt precede the actual writing, or did it just sort of unfold that way?
BS: The concept came first. It came right after I read the book. So many of the themes were very relevant to me, and I thought many of the story elements that I found really interesting were left on the floor. So it really started with the literature itself and then my two older sisters being my muses. That's where it all kind of jumped off from.
Laya, what drew you to the teen girl version of Dr. Frankenstein? What were you most excited about in playing her?
LH: Well, that sentence alone. The teen girl version of Dr. Frankenstein—super interesting. And I think it was primarily Vicaria. You don't see many characters as nuanced and flawed as Vicaria. There were many things that I felt I could relate to with her. I remember even getting the audition, I couldn't stop writing about her and thinking about what this obsession with death was and why she wanted to cure it. So that's what excited me about the project. But what really made me want to take it on was Bomani and the meetings that I had had with him primarily. I really liked his vision, and also as a collaborator, he seemed like someone I was gonna enjoy working with for a good month or two. I just wanted to be challenged, and this seemed like an amazing opportunity, playing such a nuanced character but also being a part of an impactful story.
Nuanced, for sure. And speaking to that, Chad and Denzel, both of your roles also challenge certain perspectives about Black men and the monstrous and all of these tropes and stereotypes. I'm interested in both of your thoughts on the complexity of these characters and these roles and how it plays out in the story and its connection to real life.
CC: Obviously this is a very powerful validation to marginalized folks, our families, and trying to deal with the challenges faced by this father who is dealing with extreme grief. Trying to hold his family together in a community that's falling apart from the horror and violence displayed out there. [Speaking of his character] How do I hold my family together and honor the love that I have for my daughter with the amount of pain I'm in for the loss of my wife and my son? The level of vulnerability that I'm experiencing. I think it's important that we show African American males as vulnerable. It doesn't have to be, you know, toxic masculinity. It's okay to feel and feel deeply and sometimes you're gonna get sidetracked.
The choice to self-medicate—this is a brilliant man. I don't know if you quite see it all in the movie, but he's a brilliant man as well. And sometimes, you know, when you have so much going on inside, thought-wise, feeling-wise, it could lend itself to self-medication. But also to see this man fight through it and aspire to be better, but also to not be unwilling to confront that vulnerability with his daughter and not let his pride and everything get in the way of being transparent about what he's going through. And to see her there for him as opposed to all of the other options that can come with it…. You know, it's just a very, very powerful and beautiful telling of a flawed family holding on to love and hope.
DW: I think, to what Chad said, it feels like a responsibility almost. Especially today, just as artists—what our representation is, what we put forth, you know, for our culture—especially the representation of Black men because that can be misconstrued. We've heard some feedback about the film's title, The Angry Black Girl…. "Well, why does she have to be angry?" These are honest portrayals that Bomani has so beautifully written. And it was important to all of us, I think, as artists to really come to the table and create three-dimensional characters. Each of our characters can be viewed a certain way, and that's by design. One of the film's core themes is that society paints this depiction of who we should be without really understanding the nuances and layers and, to what Chad said, the vulnerability of these characters.
So even with Kango it was very important, literally from the day I picked up the page and, of course, meeting Bomani, that we don't want to just make Kango your two-dimensional archetype of what a drug dealer or somebody like a Black captain in the hood is. What are the layers behind him? What are the things that not only make him tick, but where does he actually love? And again, it's just all credit to Bomani's wonderful vision and us having that material to really bring that to life, to represent culture accurately.
Bomani, I'm interested in the directorial choice to be really confrontational with the camera's gaze for certain scenes. Why that method?
BS: I think it's important, some things you don't really want to skate around. Cause it seems people always try to figure out a way around it, you know what I mean. And so, to me, it's just as important to be classy with things as well as be upfront about them. It just felt emotionally correct for those particular moments. A lot of the moving parts of this movie, for me at least, are working off of emotions more than an intellectualized decision.
BS: Yeah, yeah. It's what feels appropriate to me.
It's incredibly impactful, and considering Vicaria's preoccupation… This is her obsession, right? Death and looking at death and looking at it really closely. It's definitely speaking to that.
CC: "Death is a disease." On The Walking Dead, the little girl thought that a zombie would be her friend, so she killed her sister 'cause she's trying to make sense of it. And how do you make sense of that? Look at what death is birthing in this young girl. And she [Vicaria] still has the smarts and wherewithal to harness it.
Speaking to that, what do y'all think is, if not the cure, then the remedy to death?
CC: The cure is the value of human life. And the acceptance that death is inevitable.
LH: Yeah. I love that. And it's kind of going to the question that was before this one, that like, especially within the Black community, sometimes it feels like life and death are just so close together. We walk such a thin line between those two things. And in our movie, you obviously get to see that represented, but Vicaria is really trying to put the pieces together. There's family already there, present for her, and she just has to see it. It's another way of going through the grieving process, taking what she's learned and certain experiences with her brother and taking that with her dad, Jada, and Aisha. So to what Chad was saying, it's enjoying the people and the certain memories that you have with them and finding a way, I guess, to kind of push that legacy forward—even if that doesn't mean bringing the dead back to life.
DW: Compassion and awareness. Because the flip side of that is death. It's interesting when we talk about "death is a disease," and especially from a communal sense- having a scope on this film and the themes that it sort of explores- retaliation, vengeance, scorn, and hurt and pain, that pain transfers from one entity to the next. You take my brother and sister, so now I want to retaliate and take your brother and sister. Or I feel like I lost something and don't necessarily know how or where to put that energy. Rather than just having an awareness of an eye for an eye doesn't necessarily solve this situation, having compassion for one another and compassion for yourself to treat your body right. Eat fruits and vegetables. Work out, you know. So if we're talking about having a long life, the opposite of death is spreading that love within and throughout yourself.
BS: I think, on a grander scale, it's just compassion for life and getting rid of systemic pressure in all its poisonous forms. Systems of oppression put us in situations that others wouldn't necessarily be in, you know what I mean? So I think dismantling that is the bigger scope to giving us the longevity that we deserve.
CC: Exactly. Cause you're [white folks] inoculated by a larger society that's created this system that's in control. So you feed me the notion that I'm worthless. If you feed me that, it's a setup. The projection is: you are worthless. I infect you with the disease of death—you ain't worth nothing now. And as soon as I internalize truth in that, that's the obliteration of a whole community. Valuable people. And then you gotta unlearn it. You gotta undo it. How do you undo it, you know?
The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster hits theaters June 9.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.