Master’s Review – Fear and Racism in the American University | Movies


Jthere’s a lot going on in this film from first-time director Mariama Diallo — a sharp, intensely pessimistic horror satire on racism and identity politics on the American campus. Its material may not be fully absorbed by the storyline, but there’s real claustrophobia and unease in every insidious microaggression.

The setting is an imaginary Ivy League school in New England that now prides itself on its diversity, where Jasmine (Zoe Renee), a new student and young woman of color, is troubled to hear rumors that the room attributed to her was when the university’s first black female student committed suicide in the 1960s. Meanwhile, in a sort of generational anxiety parallel, Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), a distinguished scholar with a respected publication record, is thrilled but nervous to have been named the first black female “master” of one of the university’s constituent houses. (The word sure has queasy planting echoes.)

These two women have in common a rather hip academic, Liv Beckman (Amber Grey) – Gail’s friend and Jasmine’s tutor – who teaches literature and theory. Liv is more openly radical than Gail on issues of racism and is now up for a term, which could be jeopardized by the fact that Jasmine has filed a formal complaint against her for giving her a failing F grade on her article on The Scarlet Letter.

These campus policies, arguably scary enough on their own, tie into the growing and strange events that Jasmine experiences, surrounded by sinister and rude white students who are overwhelmingly most disturbing at a party on the dance floor when all the excitable white students loudly shout the N-words in Sheck Wes’ Mo Bamba. The film cleverly creates a shiver of nausea in the institutional use of “diversity” as another marker of prestige.

Master is out March 18 in theaters and on Amazon Prime Video.


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