The story of Frankenstein has been remade and reimagined multiple times for big and small screens throughout the last century. Adaptations of Mary Shelley's tale have scared audiences for nearly a hundred years. In 2023, there is now a spectacular new take on it. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster follows a highly-intelligent teenage girl with a strong belief that death is a disease that can be cured. After her brother is murdered, she attempts to bring him back to life. Director Bomani J. Story sat down with Borrowing Tape to discuss how he crafted a genre film giving us the elements we would want out of the old monster tale while taking place in a new world.
Watch,listen, or read the transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:
All right, let's kick things off here. Bomani, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster. Great movie. Congratulations on the buzz with everything going on with the film, it's awesome. Thank you.
Thank you so much, man. I'm glad you connected.
Yeah, definitely. Just to kick things off here, this is an amazing retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but I felt it's also a great story that stands on its own. As the writer and the director — but I want to talk about the writing side first — what was the writing process like with making this film?
My writing process is very frustrating. The only way I could describe it is trying to navigate through a maze and all the lights are off, and. You will bump into a wall, right? And then that wall lights up. And so, like, well, you know, that goes that way, whatever. And so you basically keep navigating this maze and bumping into walls and being frustrated because you don't know where you're going until the maze lights up. Once you have that, now you see where the story goes, and then I can kind of go in and do my thing. It's very frustrating and very long, but it gets me through the thing, and it's how I kind of attack this.
I don't know if this is going to be on the record or off the record, but that is one of the most accurate representations of writing anything from screenplays to articles or whatever. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. I'm leaving that in. And thank you for sharing that with this being a retelling or reimagining, whatever you want to call it, of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, if we want to rub too close to that. Did that idea come organically or did you just kind of start chipping away at something? You went, oh, my God, this is something kind of like that, and I dig it.
No, I mean, I read the book when I was fresh out of high school and adored it. I loved it so much, and I resonated with a lot of the themes. I thought a lot of interpretations of it were leaving stuff on the floor., that I thought were really cool, and. So I wanted to do something with it, but I didn't know what. I just knew I want to do something, but I didn't have the language or the tools to do that maze analogy. I mixed that with, I have two older sisters who I grew up with, who were kind of my first contact with intelligence, and they were my muse in this. And so I combined those two things, and then that's how everything kind of started to move and go.
Interesting. Was it always the horror genre for you, or do you like to mix it up a bit or were you, a 'just always go to a video store and run to the horror aisle' kind of guy?
Yeah, no, I've always had a love of horror since I was a kid. I've always loved horror movies. So that has kind of been a backbone of just me in general since childhood, all the way till even now. I'm constantly seeking horror movies that I love. There's been a lot of recent ones that I've loved, too. So horror has always been in the back of my mind as a filmmaker, and it's a genre that I feel like I don't see myself leaving it behind, doing it just to launch myself. I'm going to return to it.
Got the movie here, I thought it was lawless casting across the board from your leads to your supporting roles. I mean, Chad Coleman I'm a big fan of, all the way down to the not very nice teacher. I'll talk about that scene a little bit, I got a question about that.
Just talk about piecing this team of on-screen talent together and did anybody kind of come in that you didn't expect to be like this 'just knock you flat with their read'? What was it like putting this together?
Man, it is wild. I think that they all, except for Chad. Chad didn't audition. He just gets the role.
From The Walking Dead.
Yeah, right. Walking Dead, in The Wire. He's just phenomenal. But the rest of the cast, like Laya came in and auditioned and just completely smacked it out of the park and floored me with her performance and her take on the performance and her endurance and all the tools she has. It was just phenomenal. And then it paid off in dividends to me, at least. I just think that she was incredible. And so the rest of the cast basically followed suit. They all came in and auditioned and really just brought so much to these roles, even our core, when it was Laya and Reilly for Aisha and Amani for Jada and Keith, for Jamaal and Denzel and Chad, these were phenomenal performances. And Dale and Tracie. But even some of the more subsidiary characters, like the guy who gets in the tank top, like Jeremy, I believe is his name, but he plays Curtis and he just has one scene or two. He like, delivers it, you know. But it's like when all these pieces were coming together, like, I remember looking at my producer once the final piece came in, which was Chad, and I was just like the superpower of this movie is going to be its acting. That's just what it is. And I completely stand behind the idea that movies subjective. Some people like things, some people don't. But I think you can't deny the acting in this movie, I think you're objectively wrong, you know?
Agreed. So some horror films have gore effects that can just feel like the director likes blood and guts. All the bloodshed in your film seems to pack an emotional punch, I feel. Just talk about your approach to getting bloody on set, I guess.
Yeah, yeah I mean shout out to Cronenberg, 'The King of Gore'.
One of my references for this, he's just incredible. But I don't know, some of the things that people don't realize, I feel like, with Cronenberg is that a lot of his gore is justified. He's not just being weird, for some stuff. And so especially when I'm thinking about A History of Violence, right? And so to me, it's like always trying to service the story, what it means to the story.
And that's not to say that shock value gore isn't any better, any worse. But for me, with this one, it was more like servicing the fundamentals of storytelling and trying to, aspiring to achieve that, you know, so because to me, a lot of violence and gore will have a stronger effect when it is contrasted against that. You know, it's just like when I have a gore fest and I can sort of become desensitized or it becomes fun or funny, entertaining. You know, which is good, if that's what you're going for. But for me, I was trying to have an impactful effect on it and I think contrast against those fundamentals really helped that.
Definitely, you mentioned Cronenberg and the gore, and things like The Fly and The Brood always had, like, crazy core effects that also might make you cry, for Christ's sake. So you mentioned that. But I also wanted to ask you just about other filmmaking inspirations or other films that you either brought to the table with crafting this movie or just in general, who are your gods of filmmaking?
Yeah, I mean, in general, the people who really kind of busted my ideas open. I have to give you two answers. Growing up, the films that I was just constantly watching, this was Boys in the Hood and Menace II Society, and Love and Basketball. These films were just like but I didn't understand them as an art form back then. I was just kind of consuming, but they had such an emotional influence and impact on me. But then once I started really getting into cinema and seeing the craft behind it, those films became much more important to me.
Right. Because I started understanding, like, oh, there's like, people behind this. Right? You have that awakening. And then on top of that, to add to those films, like people like Aronofsky, who I love, The Fountain.Death is a Disease is my homage to The Fountain. And David Lynch, I love his movies. And big PTA fan. And Billy Wilder, it's like, he's someone that was huge for me. So it's like these filmmakers were really just people who shapeshifted how I see cinema and how I think it can be expressed.
Yeah, you're speaking my language, man. So great horror to me is also great drama. And great horror puts a mirror up to society. Whether it's anything from the classroom scene early on to that bit about Christopher Columbus. What do you think thematically this film is trying to convey?
Well, I want to be careful with that because I want to protect the relationship between the story and the audience. We can have a lot of different thematics going. Of course, I have my own hopes and dreams of what I want to achieve, but at the end of the day, I think what's important to me is that you walk into this cinema with whatever expectation you have of what you're going to get and leave with more than what you bought for. And just hoping the audience has a good ride, they leave with some thoughts in their head about life. And as you said earlier, I do think the mark of an incredible horror movie that I'm always trying to achieve is — you have your I'll use Jaws as the example. You have your shark, your monster, but then you leave and you with real-world fears of, like, I don't want to swim in the ocean. Right? I hope that this movie is able to achieve something like that.
All right, that kind of answered my very last question. I'm actually going to jump back and do my second to last question. So I apologize if this interview kind of ends on, like, I don't know what kind of note, but I want to talk about the monster. It's kind of hiding in the shadow, but then you get to see little glimpses of it, the facial reconstruction and everything. I really admired the makeup and the stature of it. I mean, I could say the inspiration. What was the inspiration for it — was the other Frankenstein movies — but was there anything else you had going on with crafting the design of the monster?
Yeah, I mean, shout to Christina Kortum. She was our creature effects person and gore effects in the movie. She was a one-woman band. So she really just was fucking shit up in there. Like, she did a phenomenal job. But yeah, I mean, for me, with the monster, I was like the big thing I was always thinking about was just like, look, man, this girl's trafficking in corpses, okay? So it's like, you can't get away from that. And they all shouldn't be looking perfect, right? Like, it shouldn't look like this perfect being. Something is going to be rotting. Some stuff is going to be working, and it shouldn't be this perfect symmetrical thing. So for me, I was just kind of pulling from, I told her that. So we were really looking at how to make that, what does that look like a human being who is stitched together? Because if you put this piece of your face on, it's not going to perfectly fit if it's from someone else.
So it was more of just thinking about things that way. And there's always going to be some references to pull. To me, one of the references was like Zombies as well as Leatherface. I felt like those were good things to kind of reference and look at for this. There was a couple of other things I had in there because the hoodie is a big thing with some monsters that I really liked. And yeah, I was just really, like, pulling those things for it.
All right, well sir, again, just congratulations on the film. I remember five minutes in, I was just kind of like, oh, it's a Frankenstein story. This is awesome. This is, like, totally my bag. So congratulations. With everything going on, I look forward to whatever is kind of coming down the pipeline with the film and everything. And I felt like it for 92 minutes. The clouds parted, and I was dropped in a world and got to kind of study it. So it's a great work. Congratulations.
Thank you so much. I'm glad you were able to connect with them, and I'm glad it reached you. You just never know with those things, so, it means a lot to me.