The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster Brings Frankenstein Mythology Into the Modern Age
Posted On June 28, 2023
Few titles are as iconic in the horror world as Frankenstein. Written by Mary Shelley at just 19 years old, the brief but powerful novel follows a “mad” scientist named Victor Frankenstein who stitches together a body made from cadavers and attempts to harness the power of life and death by reanimating the assembled flesh. Though Shelley’s story was published in 1818, its themes of misguided creation continue to echo through the genre. With The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, Bomani J. Story becomes the latest creator to tackle this lore with a poignant and terrifying film that brings Frankenstein’s Monster into the modern age. Set in a deeply racialized America, Story bends Shelley’s original themes to depict the monsterization of Black bodies. With a clever twist on the “Mad Scientist” archetype, he harnesses the rage of the Black community and stitches together a complex tapestry of terror, heart, and social commentary.
Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) is a teenage girl whose family has been decimated by death. As a child, she witnessed her mother die by a stray gunshot and is still reeling from the recent passing of her older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy). To cope with the loss, her father has been buying from the local drug dealer who may have had a hand in Chris’s death. Known in the neighborhood as the Mad Scientist, Vicaria has decided to turn her grief into action. In an abandoned storage facility, she’s been sewing together pieces of stolen bodies hoping to restore life to her beloved brother. Having reanimated Chris, Vicaria realizes that there’s more to living than simply being alive and finds herself unable to control the results of her incredible experiment. As the hulking figure roams the neighborhood in search of his lost humanity, Vicaria must race to undo her well-intentioned work before he destroys what’s left of her family.
Shelley’s tale revolves around the monstrous results of attempting to create life by conquering death. Story takes the classic narrative and situates it in a community already regarded by society as monsters. The film begins with a white teacher treating Vicaria as a physical threat because she dares to question aspects of the lesson. The following story follows her family, friends, and enemies as they struggle to rise above similar vilification. A father defends his daughter while grieving for his son. A fearful mother attempts to arm her own son with the true, but upsetting history of lynching. Young men search for dignity and strength through crime when presented with no other options. As Frankenstein’s creation was turned into a monster by a fearful world, Vicaria’s community is also treated as dangerous simply because they happen to be Black. Story’s film does not follow one misunderstood monster, but an entire neighborhood dismissed by the world as unworthy of life.
Though they are both “Mad” Scientists, Story portrays Vicaria’s rage as completely justified. Hers is not a tale of hubris and folly, but one of justice. Having listened to her mother’s final heartbeat, she becomes obsessed with harnessing the power of life and death to stitch together the remains of her shattered family. She’s galvanized into action after watching police shoot a little boy from her neighborhood. The morning of the shooting, he reminds Vicaria that no one cares what happens to his body. It’s a moment of tragic irony that convinces Vicaria to become the guardian of her community. Unlike Victor, Vicaria never becomes a villain, sympathetic or otherwise. When the results of her experiment go disastrously wrong, the blame falls on a system built on the monsterization of Black men.
Story’s creature design both terrifies and amplifies his social commentary. Unlike the iconic face of Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff), we never get a close look at Chris. We see and understand his new existence by the scars his presence leaves on those he loves. What glimpses we do get of his rotting fingers and bloodshot eyes are enough to imply the horrors that Vicaria has stitched together in hopes of resurrecting her brother. Chris is a large black man with dreadlocks and a hoodie; a symbol of the criminalized figure we’ve been conditioned to fear. Simply trying to go home, he’s treated as a monster by everyone he encounters, including police who try to arrest him based solely on racial profiling. When Chris fights back, he becomes all the more monstrous and the officers become his innocent victims, valorized for trying to take down the monster they created. We also never see the faces of these cops. Interactions with law enforcement play out as a series of dimly lit shadow plays, purposefully vague to represent the tragic videos we see circulating on social media.
Hayes is simply fantastic as Vicaria. Years after she inspired millions of kids by voicing the phenomenal Doc McStuffins, she’s back as a totally different kind of doctor. Though her new patients are more grisly, she’s still working to make the world a better place. We know how this story will turn out, but we still root for Vicaria, hoping that she’ll somehow find the key to combating her dire circumstances. Chad L. Coleman is equally impressive as her long-suffering father, managing to convey a powerful range of emotions with minimal screen time. Along with a strong supporting cast, Amani Summer steals the show as Jada, a precocious little girl who recognizes and befriends Chris. Riding the line between ominous and adorable, she provides a poignant reminder of the future Vicaria is fighting for. Even Kagno (Denzel Whitaker), the cold-hearted drug lord, contains emotional depth and turns out to be managing family problems of his own. Only the police are inhuman, representing the plague of death destroying an otherwise vibrant and loving community.
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster taps into a particular kind of rage created by a lifetime of oppression. Vicaria is a mad scientist fighting to overcome more than just death. She’s attempting to eradicate the dehumanization stemming from centuries of slavery and anti-Black racism in America. It’s an astonishing debut film that shows a community simply fighting for the right to be human. Story’s powerful ending provides a chill-inducing nod to James Whale’s iconic film and implies that it is possible to learn from the mistakes of the past. If we can see beyond our own biases and fear, we can learn to see the humanity in every body.
Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.