More often than not, I have been the only person of color or one of a few navigating through life and in my chosen field of work. The feeling it encompasses is one of being misunderstood, isolated and disrespected as a human and woman of color from a sector of society who refuses acknowledge equality. You find yourself struggling to understand why individuals can’t or won’t appreciate the content of your character not solely focused on the color of your skin. It seems as long as you lay in the cut, not exercising an opinion which can be misconstrued as oppositional or threatening, my peers and constituents of the vanilla hue are very comfortable with being in what they consider to be a superior position…especially in the space of academia.
Writer-director Mariama Diallo’s first feature is a complicated blend of horror, drama, psychological thriller, and social commentary. What begins as a search for belonging becomes a chilling struggle for survival as Master delivers a visceral and emotional reflection on racism and white supremacy, while Diallo shrewdly reframes a basic horror trope asking what escape is possible for communities of color confronting a racial terror that is everywhere.
At an elite New England university built on the site of a Salem-era gallows hill, three women strive to find their place. Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), just instated as “Master,” a dean of students, discovers what lies behind the school’s immaculate facade; first-year student Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) confronts a new home that is cold and unwelcoming; and literature professor Liv Beckman (Amber Gray) collides with colleagues who question her right to belong. Navigating politics and privilege, they encounter increasingly terrifying manifestations of the school’s haunted past… and present.
What is most jarring the the deep commentary spoken and unspoken on race relations and how undercover is has been for decades. How some people say one thing and do something that is the complete opposite in the name of diversity, ie…all those claiming to be allies during the Black Lives Matter movement until it no longer served their narratives or purse strings.
Amber Gray as the ‘passing’ professor was spectacular inhabiting a world and lineage she knows little about, yet believes it’s better being a white woman (aka Rachel Dolezal) than embracing thee reality of being a light skinned Black woman. Becoming so divorced from reality, she literally couldn’t tell Black from White. Regina Hall reigns supreme as Gail, who ultimately decides that her appointment wasn’t to make her the ‘master’ but the ‘maid.’ and Zoe Renee makes your heart bleed as you witness her go from elation as a college newbie to be ostracized with a ‘scarlet letter.’
Ultimately, Master solidifies the question of just because you’re not seeing something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Racism will always be prevalent. It’s how we choose to react to or not is what makes the difference.