Two black women face racism and horror at an elite New England school. Master is a heavy-handed take on discrimination in academia as a reflection of American society. The film uses genre tropes and racial identity politics to push a sledgehammer narrative. The ostensibly smart protagonists become hapless victims of institutionalized bias. They are tokens preserving the status quo instead of inspiring change. Master lays its intolerance message on thick.
Regina Hall stars as Gail Bishop, the first black “master” of a residence hall at the prestigious Ancaster College in Massachusetts. Zoe Renee co-stars as Jasmine Moore, a shy black freshman who has just moved into Gail Bishop’s Belleview house. Each gets off to a rocky start in their new surroundings. Jasmine learns that a girl committed suicide in her infamously haunted dorm room. Gail encounters strange and eerie mishaps as she gets acclimated to her new role.
Jasmine struggles to fit in with her white roommate, Amelia (Talia Ryder), and her snobby entourage. Her situation becomes more uncomfortable when a black professor, Liv Beckman (Amber Grey), gives her a failing grade for not understanding an assignment. Jasmine’s depression turns to terror when she becomes the target of a seemingly supernatural force. Gail also experiences the malevolent threat. Her job becomes more complicated when Jasmine officially disputes her grade from Liv Beckman. Who is up for a tenure review and feels unfairly treated.
Dissecting Characters in Master
Master has nearly every white character as disparaging in some way. Director/writer Mariama Diallo, in her feature debut, paints a broad stroke of snide and overtly racist behavior. Jasmine and Gail have to continually prove they belong; which gets more difficult as freaky incidents escalate. Jasmine starts to exhibit physical wounds. Alarming Gail who does nothing but talk. These scenes take a ridiculous turn. Any student in this kind of distress would have been removed from the dorm. Diallo employs Jasmine as a punching back to further her agenda.
Master’s horror elements fall short. There isn’t a legitimate scare in the entire film. Diallo switches the lighting to red every time Jasmine is threatened. It’s a broadcast beacon for terror that dulls the effect. Gail doesn’t react believably under duress. Both leads continually exhibit foolish behavior. Why would Jasmine stay in a haunted dorm by herself? Then lie to her relatives about being safe. It’s understandable that irrational decisions are made in a poor mental state. But Jasmine’s lamb to the slaughter personality is not plausible.
Master’s Final Act
I had major issues with Master’s final act. The subplot regarding Liv Beckman’s tenure takes a tabloid twist that’s par for the race-baiting course. The resolve for Jasmine and Gail is much darker. Mariama Diallo makes her point with a blunt edge. Overcoming ingrained racism is difficult. She gives her characters zero grit or courage to fight. That’s disappointing when so many have been knocked down, yet always stood up and persevered. There’s no merit to complaining without action. Master states the obvious and crumbles.
Master is a production of Animal Kingdom and Big Indie Pictures. It will be a concurrent theatrical and streaming release on March 18th on Prime Video.