Laya DeLeon Hayes is in her mad scientist era.
Written by Andréa Butler | Photographer: Jenny Anderson | Stylist: Jorge Morales | Makeup: Britty Whitfield | Hair: Antoinette Wade and Monae Everett
When 18-year-old Laya DeLeon Hayes first heard about The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster in an email sent by her agents, she wasn’t too sure she even wanted to audition. The title alone — The Angry Black Girl — “put a little shiver” down her spine. “I thought, completely, it was going to play into stereotypes. I mean, it was so loud [and] as a young, Black actress, you’re just constantly thinking of ways [the industry is] going to categorize you or put you in a box,” she explains. But after reading more about Vicaria, the character she’d potentially play, and delving a bit into the preliminary script, she knew she had to go out for the role because the movie was most definitely not what she’d first imagined.
Filmed in the sweltering June heat of Charlotte, North Carolina over 20 days last year, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster hits theaters today, June 9, 2023. But this Frankenstein remake isn’t just a word-for-word retelling with a Black cast; it isn’t that at all. Through the main idea of Mary Shelley’s OG tale, this film tackles everything from grief to trauma to police brutality to gun violence to hope for a better future. It also explores what exactly a “monster” is and isn’t. “What I love about [our movie] … you really do feel empathy for this creature. Almost coming into this new world, like a new child, in a way. There’s a certain innocence and purity that … I think we were able to capture in the film.”
Tapping into her mad scientist era took a lot of practice and several script revisions. “We had a two-week rehearsal process before we started the movie, which was so helpful,” Laya says. “Bomani [J. Story, the writer and director] would play this horrifying music. And, oh gosh, there’s no studios in North Carolina, so you’d be in a warehouse, and he would play this horrifying music, and then, you would just go and open random doors [and] just act scared. … When we had to actually start stitching up eyeballs, I was like, ‘OK, I need to actually get my mind together.'”
Not necessarily a fan of watching horror movies — “I’m still a bit of a scaredy cat!” — making them is a whole vibe for Laya. “I think it’s some of the most fun you can have on any set because you’re just screaming and crying and running for like for a month straight. It’s exhilarating and almost therapeutic in a lot of ways,” she says. But that doesn’t mean ya’ girl didn’t feel some legit fear on set at times.
“It’s a dark headspace to be in; it’s pretty dark material … and then, that creature is very scary looking [and] there’s times when I’m running and screaming, and that is very real,” she says. “We were all very lucky on the set to really create a family with this cast and crew — and not even on some Hollywood like, ‘Oh, we family, we tight’ — we truly felt a familial bond since the beginning of filming … so any time we felt scared … we really did have each other throughout that.”
A quick, spoiler-free look at how everything goes down: Laya’s character, 17-year-old Vicaria (an allusion to Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist who created his own monster in the classic novel, BTW), grows up in an environment thick with death and grief. After witnessing the demise of yet another young, Black person to gun violence ’round her way, she gets the idea that maybe death is just a disease that can be cured. And she sets out to cure it, spending hours on hours on hours collecting body parts, sewing them together in her “lab”, and harnessing the power of electricity in hopes of reanimating a corpse. Said corpse is brought back to life, and let’s just say, things do not go as Vicaria intended.
“That creature … is like all of her grief and anger and trauma manifested into one thing,” Laya says. “That’s what was so appealing about Vicaria is that lack of control, especially when you feel young, you feel like you want to control your narrative, or understand and find answers to every single issue when simply sometimes there’s no answer to them. And, with her specifically, she’s dealing with grief, and she’s dealing with loss, and that’s a hard thing to navigate, especially when you’re young.”
It’s like she’s literally trying to put all the pieces back together.
But why’s she called “angry” tho? Maybe it’s because she’s forced to grow up in an environment she did not choose under circumstances that have caused more trauma and grief than most people go through in a lifetime. And she’s had enough. Or maybe, “angry” is simply part of the film’s social commentary. “I told the director when we had our meetings, I was like, ‘She don’t seem angry to me. She’s just very passionate, and she’s ambitious and curious and innovative,'” Laya says. “And that’s the point. It’s like, when you take any young, Black girl who is a free thinker or is marching to the beat of her own drum, society likes to call [her] one thing or likes to place [her] in some type of box that we’re just not supposed to be in.”
TBH, Laya was still a little worried about the reception of the movie because of that very word, “angry,” especially remembering her own first reaction to the title. “I think I was worried primarily that people weren’t going to understand it. That was the first thing. But it’s stressful for me to watch myself on screen period. It’s just that feeling of like, this has been yours now for a year, and it’s no longer yours. It’s no longer your little secret. People get to feel whatever type of way they feel about it; they can interpret it however they want to interpret it. And that’s a scary feeling,” she shares. “[But] I think in those first 10 minutes of the movie … all the nerves just went away. I was like, ‘Okay, I think we have something really special.'”
The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster is in theaters now (and On Demand and digital on June 23). Peep the trailer below: