Mariama Diallo wants us to confront our ghosts.
The writer-director marked her feature debut with “Master,” a story about three women who try to find their place at a prestigious (i.e. stuffy) New England university, amid its racially charged past. Regina Hall stars as Professor Gail Bishop, who has been promoted to “Master” of a residence hall, making history as the first Black woman at the school to do so.
Gail finds herself drawn to freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) after she experiences supernatural activity in her haunted dorm room. Jasmine also clashes with Professor Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), who is entangled in her own racially charged tenure review.
As Gail tries to maintain order and fulfill the duties of a Master, the cracks begin to show in the elite university’s once-immaculate facade — hinting at the darkness under it all. Is the school really haunted, and if so, by whom?
Talia Ryder and Talia Balsam also star in the breakout 2022 Sundance film, which arrives in theaters and on Amazon Prime Video March 18.
As director Diallo explained during the IndieWire Studio at 2022 Sundance, “Master” directly confronts the notion that “horror films made by Black artists are being received as kind of teaching tools for non-Black artists to receive” as novelties.
“How could I never make a film and not talk about my perspective? Then we’re doomed,” Diallo said. “I am glad to be able to now add my voice and say what the hell I want to say.”
IndieWire wrote of the film out of Sundance: “At what cost should Black folks seek approval gatekeepers? Is the mental anguish that accompanies such trials ever worth it? […] It’s the kind of grit-your-teeth philosophy Black women are often pushed to accept if they want to succeed. But it’s advice that Gail soon learns doesn’t hold much weight in the face of your own mental well-being.”
“Master” has echoes of the “The Shining,” “Get Out,” and “Candyman” as a “traumatic horror film.” With “detailed and deliberate, assertive but rarely obvious, Diallo’s ‘Master’ is a towering, inventive shot in the arm for Black horror,” IndieWire wrote.