Posted on March 22, 2022

Review: America’s Racist Past Haunts Horror Film ‘Master’

Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press, March 17, 2022

You want ghosts? Check. How about doors inexplicably opening and closing, creepy moaning in dark corners, and sudden sickening swarms of maggots? Check, check and check.

But “Master,” a new horror film by Mariama Diallo with themes of race and social justice at its core, is most frightening when dealing not with the supernatural, but with the real — the depressingly real, as in the indignities that three Black women face while trying to fit into an overwhelmingly white academic institution.

Diallo, who proves a talent to watch with this compelling if overpacked debut film, has said that “Master,” featuring a trio of terrific performances from Regina Hall, Zoe Renee and Amber Gray, stems partly from her own experiences as a Black student at Yale. The title, for example: It refers to the heads of residential colleges at Yale, called “masters” until the school finally dropped the term in 2016. Diallo realized only a few years after graduating how strange it was that she called a white man “master.”

But in her film, it is a Black woman, faculty member Gail Bishop, who has achieved the honor — the first Black “master” at Ancaster College, an elite school in Salem, Massachusetts, home of course to the historic witch trials. {snip}

Or is it? Gail is one of only a handful of Black professors — and there are only eight Black students, for that matter. One is Jasmine, an incoming freshman (Renee, appealing and thoughtful) who seems confident and enthusiastic and ready to take on life at Ancaster.


{snip} Jasmine finds out from a (white) student welcoming committee that she’s been assigned to “the room.” It’s the room believed to be haunted. Back in the ’60s, the first Black female student at Ancaster came to a tragic end in that room. {snip}

But ghosts exist only on one level of “Master,” despite its categorization as a horror film. The other level is the daily microaggressions of being a Black student in lily-white environment.

Jasmine is not welcomed by fellow students. Her white roommate, Amelia, wears a “Hamptons” sweatshirt and fills the room with her own friends, who seem to regard Jasmine as a curiosity at best (they call her Beyoncé). {snip}

At a campus party, the white kids get in while Jasmine is stopped by the collegiate bouncer and told the event is “at capacity.” Once she makes it inside, she starts to dance with the others, enjoying it until she realizes they’re happily singing a hip-hop song filled with racial epithets.


In Diallo’s compelling tale, turns out the scariest ghosts are not the ones that go bump in the night. They’re the ones that haunt a nation’s history.