One would that at the collegiate level, racism would not be a systemic problem at all. Writer/director Mariama Diallo strongly states otherwise in a powerful and emotional film that takes the issue of racial prejudice and utilizes it to spin a supernatural horror tale. The movie screened at this year’s SXSW festival and is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Featuring compelling and emotional performances by Regina Hall and Zoe Renee, Master delivers chilling and disturbing moments of both realistic and other-worldly varieties.
Zoe Renee stars as Jasmine Moore, a young, Black freshman beginning her studies at a pre-dominantly white, prestigious college. Nervous and unsure about her new beginning, while also feeling out-of-place where so few women of color attend, Jasmine does her best to make a go of things. Meanwhile, the newly hired Master of students, Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), has much enthusiasm about her highly respected new position, but begins to feel that her colleagues and superiors only want her there because she is Black. In other words, she has been selected to present a somewhat false facade of racial equality and inclusiveness in the school.
The longer that both Jasmine and Gail remain at the college, they begin to notice that racism may not be as overt as it used to be. However, it is much more subtle and is reflected in the micro-agressions that come from the white students, faculty, and staff. Also, it seems that an old curse that has plagued women of color at the school, begins to target both Jasmine and Gail, adding more to their stress and challenging their sanity.
Written and directed by Mariama Diallo, Master is one of those films that is often stressful and difficult to watch. Anyone who has experienced some sort of racism or prejudice, regardless of how subtle or how obvious, will certainly cringe at the film’s mostly superb execution of these types of moments. I had the pleasure of speaking with Diallo and actor Zoe Renee at SXSW and both described their experiences as Black women and how they inspired the themes and issues addressed in the film. A vital and positive element that makes this movie work is the writing. Diallo definitely speaks from the heart and knows how to recreate these types of scenarios and problems through her medium.
Though she has chosen to express these disturbing, uncomfortable, and ugly themes through a supernatural horror movie, the more realistic moments seem to work better than the other-worldly ones. That is not to say that the horror beats don’t totally work. Master does have its frightening, more traditional horror beats, but it seems that Diallo wants to really drive her messages home with the scenes that reflect actual moments from her life.
And helping to drive these messages home, to the hearts of the audiences members are the performances by lead actors Regina Hall and Zoe Renee. Both of their characters represent different generations of Black women who continue to endure discrimination, prejudice and the ways that students, faculty, and administration ofter try to undermine the value of people of color. While it comes at no surprise that Hall performs superbly in her role, it is wonderful to see a relatively unknown actor like Zoe Renee make a such dynamic impression. Renee not only portrays Jasmine as a timid and shy student, but also shows wonderful range, as her character undergoes a rather frightening and disturbing journey.
Master is not just a frivolous horror flick made for kicks and grins, it a movie that deals with real, distressing and frustrating problems whose continued existence reflect the real horror and anguish often faced people of color. Writer/director Mariama Diallo delivers a movie that goes deep into the psyche of people challenged and tormented by prejudice and reveals the many layers in which this systemic problem continues to plague our world.