The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster
by Hope Madden
An awful lot of people have reimagined Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in an awful lot of ways. What makes writer/director Bomani J. Story’s take, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, so effective is that it tackles a lot in very little time and handles all of it heartbreakingly well.
Laya DeLeon Hayes is Vicaria, a gifted student whose heart and brains overtake her wisdom when she decides that death itself is the disease that must be cured, and that she’s the one to cure it. It was Dr. Frankenstein’s vanity that pushed him to discover the secret to life itself. For Vicaria, the reason is far more tragic, but the result is the same.
To say that Story situates Shelley’s tale in the context of drug violence would be to sell his film short. He’s moved the story from European castles and laboratories to the projects, where Vicaria’s mother fell victim to a drive-by shooting, her brother was shot to death on a drug deal gone wrong, and her father deals with his grief by using. But drugs are just part of the larger problem, the almost escapable, systemic and cyclical nature of violence and poverty.
One of the reasons the Frankenstein monster is so effective so often is that he is tragically monstrous. He is violent through no real fault of his own but as a reaction to an environment that hates him, treats him with cruelty, fear and malice. We simultaneously root for and against this monster.
The trick is to make us root for the creator, and DeLeon Hayes delivers a layered, touching performance that accomplishes this. Vicaria is so young, so hopeful, and so full of fight that we forgive her short sightedness and her immediate (and understandable) fear. Vicaria’s missteps are understandable because she’s a kid, and her heart’s in the right place, which is why she keeps making the worst decisions. It’s a powerfully compelling performance.
Story’s chosen genre may feel slight, even campy, but the tropes belie some densely packed ideas, and there’s a current of empathy running through the film that not only separates this from other Frankenstein tales, but deepens the film’s genuine sense of tragedy.
Not every performance is as strong as DeLeon Hayes’s, and sometimes Story’s dialog is asked to carry too much historical significance. But there’s no denying the power he wrung from the source material.