(director/writer: Mariama Diallo; cinematographer: Charlotte Hornsby; editors: Jennifer Lee/ Maya Maffioli; music: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe; cast: Zoe Renee(Jasmine Moore), Amber Gray (Liv Beckman), Regina Hall (Professor Gail Bishop), Julia Nightingale (Freshman Counselor), Talia Ryder (Amelia), Talia Balsam (Diandra), Ella Hunt (Cressida); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Joshua Astrachan, Brad Becker-Parton, Andrea Roa: Amazon Studios; 2022)
“A smart, thoughtful and meaningful film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The debut feature of the talented Black writer-director Mariama Diallois is a pointed drama about racism in a fictional predominantly white elite college in New England, Ancaster College, that’s haunted, as its located near where the Salem witch trials took place. It’s a stylish and unsettling film that resonates in these times of renewed racial strife, that is ambitious in its drama on race, class and gender but stumbles when it force-feeds a horror story onto it.
Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the new dean (or Master as they call it here, giving it a touch of Oxford) at the beautifully built building at Ancaster (it was shot at Vassar) and despite the school’s history of systemic racism is the first Black in that position. Also arriving on campus is the eager Black freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), an exceptional student who must deal with the casual racism in the dorm and all the witch talk that hovers over the campus (the previous student in her dorm room was so haunted by the past ghosts she killed herself). Jasmine’s white dorm roommate is Amelia (Talia Ryder ), who has a different view on life and her white student friends disrespect Jasmine.
Both the Black dean and the Black student do their best to try and fit in on the white campus that puts on a sham liberal face.
A third party is also featured. The flamboyant and outspoken Black literature professor Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), who is up for tenure and worries about not publishing enough and if her mysterious background will be uncovered. She also must deal with a complaint filed against her by Jasmine for giving the A-student a failing grade, and for undercutting her paper on “The Scarlet Letter.”
Despite its blemishes, like failing to say more about the white-black conflict between Jasmine-Amelia that would give it greater meaning in regards to modern-day race relations, it nevertheless crushes it with an ending that hits home on the black experience on campus in a white institution.
It’s a smart, thoughtful and meaningful film with touches of “Get Out.” But its attempt to attach a horror story to its racism story was a misstep, What hits home is how its title reminds one that the races don’t share the same fondness for the word Master and do not have same college experience.
It played at Sundance.
REVIEWED ON 2/1/2022 GRADE: B