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‘Master’ Shows That The Sinister Evil Within The Halls Of Academia Is Racism – Review

The horror genre has entered a renaissance, where Black voices are front and center. From Jordan Peele to Nia DaCosta, more filmmakers are highlighting Black narratives, racism, and how it all intertwines to create films that merge reality with fantasy for a truly terrifying experience. Mariama Diallo joins the pantheon of filmmakers in this renaissance with her latest work, Master. The ensemble cast, featuring Zoe Renee, Amber Gray, Ella Hunt, Sofia Hublitz, Noa Fisher, Kara Young, and led by Regina Hall, brings audiences into the privileged halls of academia where racism and supernatural forces blend to manifest a new, but familiar horror.

Master follows the narratives of two Black women. We have Gail Bishop (Hall), a professor who was recently appointed house master for a dormitory at the prestigious university, Ancaster College, and Jasmine Moore (Renee), a first year student at the same university who is living in a dorm room that’s deemed haunted. Both women have a different journey at Ancaster, but their stories converge when each has to wrestle with the omnipresence of racism and perceived supernatural forces afoot within these Ivy League-like halls. 

Master - starring Regina Hall
Regina Hall appears in Master by Mariama Diallo, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Although this film is fiction, for many Black folks working in higher education or attending college, this film will be an affirmation of the realities of navigating academia as a Black person. This is what makes this film incredibly relatable and terrifying. Racism is the boogeyman that so many are familiar with. Its presence is pervasive, yet elusive. It is hard to explain when it is happening, but you can tell when it does. Watching Hall and Renee maneuver through it is stressful, triggering, and surely purposeful. 

Another supernatural component kicks in through tales of incidents at the school. According to students and faculty, a witch plagues the school. Adding the looming presence of the witch becomes just as heavy of a force as the racism that Hall and Renee’s characters are forced to deal with. These powerful forces are made more profound through creative use of lighting and camera angles that conjure anxiety, as they distort what is reality and what is not. 

Additionally, the dialogue from the rest of the cast is full of gaslighting, which makes it even harder for the main characters to discern what is reality. Pairing this with the daily microaggressions that each character faces, further reinforces the omnipresence of a well-known evil. 

Regina Hall and Amber Gray in Master. (Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Aside from this mysterious evil, the film also analyzes how Black women, in particular, navigate predominantly white spaces. The film explores topics of colorism, respectability politics and code switching. For many Black folks, these experiences won’t require explanation, but may require a moment to decompress after viewing. For those not privy to the plight that many Black folks experience, the film becomes an entry way towards recognizing it. 

In regards to portraying these experiences, Hall and Renee do it wonderfully. Renee gives a nuanced performance of a character struggling to find community and safety from a force as old as the university itself. Whereas Hall gives one of her best performances as an academician navigating the deep seated system of power, privilege, and oppression she’s traversed through her entire career. 

Between the performances by Hall and Renee, the atmospheric terror cultivated by sound and imagery, and a few surprises within the film that are sure to leave audiences’ jaws on the floor, this film wins big. Racism is horrifying enough, but Diallo is able to effectively mix multiple evils to cultivate a horror of its own. 

Rating: 9/10

Master will be available to stream on Prime Video on March 18.

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