To destroy the systems that keep us in place, we may need “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster.” [SXSW]

Content Warning: The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster feature several scenes involving flashing lights. Photosensitive audiences should take precautions before viewing.

Those who proclaim that America isn’t racist or isn’t built upon racist structures is either profiting from it or ignorant. From the moment that European adventurers first set foot on this continent, colonization and extermination took place. Spanish captains and commodores from Europe plundered Central America, South America, as well as the Caribbean, while Great Britain and France populated North America. The indigenous peoples either removed from their land or murdered on each occasion. In what’s now the United States, we can look back on our country’s history to see how the government not only brought in immigrants from other countries in order to build our roadways, railways, towns, and cities, before legally banning from them citizenship and branding them as job-takers. System upon system, mechanism upon mechanism, the United States places immigrants of non-European descent (and their descendants) into one of two categories: profitable or trouble. When faced with this kind of choice, how can one expect to survive, let alone thrive? To a degree, this is what writer/director Bomani J. Story explores in his feature-length debut film The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, an homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, having its world premiere during SXSW 2023.


Laya DeLeon Hayes as Vicaria in Bomani J. Story’s THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) is a bright girl. So much so that her young neighbor Jada (Amani Summer) refers to her as “mad scientist” before quizzing Vicaria on the periodic table. To the outside world, Vicaria is incredibly smart, going to a special school that’ll help give her a jumpstart out of the neighborhood that took her mother when Vicaria was young and only recently took her older brother Chris (Edem Atsu-Swanzy). These are losses that have reduced her overworked father, Donald (Chad L. Coleman), to find solace in drugs sold by local dealer Kango (Denzel Whitaker), but have only steeled Vicaria’s resolve. She doesn’t want to learn all she can to get herself and her father out of their neighborhood, especially with Chris’s unborn child still on the way. No, she wants to learn how to cure death entirely to stop all of their pain. Forever.

There are story stories occurring parallel within Angry Black Girl. The first is the homage to Frankenstein, with allusions spread throughout the film. The obvious one would be like Vicaria’s name, a twist on Victor. What I give credit to Story for is the way he inserts a reference to central location Germany from the original tale into a clapback regarding Vicaria’s namesake ancestors. When Story works them in like this, they feel inspired, weaving together aspects of Shelley’s work in a way that deepens the real-world implications of the characters’ world but don’t drive the narrative as a whole. As a former Lit major, there’s some inspired applications of the original tale made modern here. For instance, that Victor was already fascinated with the sciences, but took a turn toward the morbid after scarlet fever took his mother. Here, young Vicaria does after she’s the victim of a shooting. This is where the second story comes in and as it shies away from the “Modern Prometheus” aspect of Shelley’s novel, it reveals itself as a heart-breaker.

Through the few engagements we see, Vicaria is known in her community and is not necessarily part of it. Jada isn’t the only one firmly aware of her scientific interests and it’s something that gets her in trouble with Kango, the man Vicaria blames for the death of Chris. Simultaneously, Vicaria gets into trouble at her school due to a white instructor engaging in microaggressions before things escalate. The interaction at the school demonstrates that, just like in her neighborhood, she doesn’t fully belong. Is she on a track to take her above and beyond or is she destined for arrests? That depends on whether you believe that these are the only two options. In the world of Angry Black Girl, these seem to be what the bulk of the characters believe based on the interactions we see and the responses to those interactions. Between the plain racist teacher at her school and the hostile police action that occurs frequently in their neighborhood, all Vicaria knows is the system that would see her muted before it would see her succeed. When Story drills into this, Angry Black Girl is incisive, zeroing in on the tropes and perspectives that keep the Black community and other minorities as a lower class in the U.S.

What’s particularly fascinating is how Story almost refuses to present the violence in the film despite some truly brutal sequences. Rather than offering an unblinking look at the deaths of Vicaria’s mom or brother, for instance, we’re instead shown glimpses intercut with someone or something else, edited together like intrusive thoughts as Vicaria remembers what happened. This feels intentional, as though Story wants to avoid having the focus of the film being on violence done to any specific character, making the importance fall on how the violence makes Vicaria feel. There are plenty of broken and bleeding Black bodies in other media, so this comes off as a gentle and inspired idea. There’s another choice Story makes that may frustrate some, yet makes sense given the larger ideas of self-identification as it relates to society’s pressure to fit into one box or another and the notion of touching death to control it: anything the resurrected touches seems to be marked. Unfortunately, this isn’t explored in any real way. For instance, Vicaria appears to be injured significantly on her forearm but it’s neither discussed nor treated, but as more and more handprints are seen to indicate the presence of the newly-alive, there’s a sense that items are being marked by something unnatural. Skin is degraded as though through severe burns or melted, palm prints are visible on doors and walls appearing as markings which are almost biblical in nature, as though indications of coming into contact with something unclean. But here’s the thing, Vicaria and those touched by the resurrected are not unclean. They may have some grey moral or ethical standards, but none are so terrible as to be philosophically corroded. Rather, each are the culmination of the choices they’ve made based on an established path that some choose to deviate from (Vicaria), where others do not (Kango, her father, her brother, and the rest of the community).


Writer/director Bomani J. Story. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

When Story leans away from Shelley, the film as a whole is at its strongest. Vicaria’s struggles are real, the implications of the life she leads, where the system in place is designed to keep her exactly where she is, are devastating and are treated without dramatics, as real life. With the focus there, even with all the science fiction/horror fantasy elements at play, Angry Black Girl maintains an emotional core that’s hard to shake. However, as often as the film follows Shelley’s tale (even throwing in a 1931 Frankenstein reference), one begins to predict the plot beats and therefore lose any sense of narrative tension. This doesn’t necessarily damage the emotional heft of the ending, it just creates a sense in those familiar with the source material of anticipation and expectation rather than being in the moment with the questions Story raises. And make no mistake, Angry Black Girl is a film that ponders intense questions, without even getting to the “controlling death” of it all, regarding whether one can break the system or just fit the form that the system says you are. When dialed in, Angry Black Girl is meaty, lingering on one’s mind well after it concludes. When not, there’s too much distance between the audience and the characters to maintain the necessary electric connection.

Screening during SXSW 2023.

For more information, head to the official SXSW The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

SXSW 2023

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply


  1. 12 films to check out during The Overlook Film Festival 2023 – Elements of Madness

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: