2022, R, 98 min. Directed by Mariama Diallo. Starring Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam, Amber Gray.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 18, 2022

The ghosts of institutionalized racism amidst the hallowed halls of academia do more than rattle chains in the night.

An arresting feature debut from director Mariama Diallo, Master gingerly walks the tightrope between outright supernatural horror and a criticism of the enduring power of monied white privilege.

Master is set in the fictional New England university Ancaster, where portraits of the school’s all-white former chancellors and famed forebears adorn the walls. Diallo focuses her gaze on three African American women who attempt to subvert the powers that be with mixed results.

The Ancaster faculty’s Ivory soap bubble of microaggressions, harassment, and worse, are at first aimed most at freshman Jasmine Moore (Renee), practically the only student of color in an otherwise all-white milieu. At a drunken frat party during which she’s forced to fend off horny, marauding frat rats, she’s told the imposing manse and campus were built on top of a 17th century witch burning, and that the crone’s shade continues to wreak vengeance on any newcomer unlucky enough to be assigned to dorm room 302.

Secondly, there’s Regina Hall’s Gail Bishop, celebrated – *ahem* – as the university’s first-ever African American Master. The film’s title can be parsed in myriad ways, but the most obvious is that of the “master and slave” relationship. Bishop has her own racially related roadblocks to smash through, but it’s tenured professor Liv Beckman (Gray) that ends up being the most confounding character in the film. Seemingly at odds, for reasons unknown, she rewards Jasmine’s hard work and well-researched assignments with low grades, and even an “F+” at one point. It appears that the professor has some major skeletons in her closet vis-à-vis her history at the school, and turns out to be the exact opposite of what Jasmine most needs.

Over and into these already dismaying – and sadly all too real – racial inequities, Diallo (who also penned the screenplay) adds a spectral figure cloaked in a black cape and cowl, rumored to be the aforementioned witch. Then there’s the “now you see it, now you don’t” oil painting of Ancaster’s founder, which morphs from a genteel portraiture into a likeness that would make Francis Bacon queasy. Diallo wisely doles out these disquieting phantasms bit by bit. They form a spectral and historical daisy chain linking the university and its current and past alumni to the racial atrocities of the past, the present, and unfortunately, I fear, the future.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Regina Hall Films
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
Megachurch mockumentary needs a change of focus

Sarah Jane, Sept. 2, 2022

Breaking News in Yuba County
Kidnapping comedy with a star-studded ensemble

Feb. 12, 2021

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Master, Mariama Diallo, Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam, Amber Gray

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle