The best part of Master is when the filmmaker’s direction pairs her horror aesthetics and tropes with the resulting alienation of our three leads. Of course, there’s an underlying “force” at play that is elegantly revealed in due time. Her approach towards calling out microaggressions using a sinister entity as the root of all problems is simply flawless. In Jasmine’s case, for example, she is subjected to weird comments by her white peers that are very much centered around her race. As these interactions become more frequent, so do her experiences with the evil entity, building up to a chilling encounter that is as terrifying as it is emotionally devastating. It’s the perfect allegory to racism being soul-sucking, especially when you’re the one experiencing it.
At the end of Diallo’s feature-length debut, I could feel heart palpitations manifest. At the time, I couldn’t explain why. Now, I realize it’s because she effectively captured my academic and professional experiences in this alarming story to the point in which I had a physical reaction to all the PTSD I’ve been burying all these years. It’s something I know a little too well, having been the only Black student in practically all of my courses at predominantly white institutions for undergrad and graduate school. The uncomfortable glares you get when slavery is the topic of conversation, the gasps and stone-cold confrontations you’re invited to when a classmate says the n-word.
Or how about having to be the only person who calls out a co-worker who says something culturally insensitive? I’ve been there, and these are all examples of terrorizing moments you’re subjected to when you have to be the token Black woman to fight against what everyone else already knows is wrong — but solo. It’s why Diallo’s script is powerfully executed to those of us who have lived these “racist cues.”
Building up to one of the most emotionally explosive finales I have seen in a long time, “I didn’t change anything,” cries Gail as Hall delivers her monologue with intensely penetrating precision. Master has the kind of ending that reminded me that no matter how successful a Black woman becomes in a predominantly white institution or corporation, she alone can never escape or defeat the evils of systemic racism when it is perpetually kept alive by organizations that claim diversity and inclusivity for show. And that’s the saddest truth and evil of all.
Master screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…I could feel heart palpitations manifest."