Master

Starring: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, and Amber Gray.

Directed By: Mariama Diallo

Where I Watched It: Amazon

English Audio Description Available: Yes

Provided By: The Media Access Group

Narrated By: Michael Bove

The Plot: The story centers around two black women at a predominantly white New England college. Jasmine (Renee) is a student just starting out, and Gale (Hall) is a tenured professor. But as the movie unfolds, unsettling things happen to and around them, and while the school claims to want to increase diversity, there seems to be a supernatural presence that would suggest otherwise.

What Works: in what is both a blessing and a curse, not being told the races of these actors/characters leaves you wondering who is black, white, or another race. The two main characters are explained easily as black, and a third, Liv (Gray) is also labeled as black. There is a minor character named Sasha that I believe is, as well as some workers at the school. The rest of the cast is ethnically vague or presumed white.

That not knowing actually makes the film more frustrating, but actually (at least for a blind audience) sells the final twist in the third act. i won’t ruin that for you, but because you can’t see, I would argue that a twist works better for the blind than perhaps it would for those who can see. That’s just my guess.

The film deals indirectly with micro aggressions, as well as the shameful past of the university, and attempts to put that against this current and modern level of white empathy, and what diversity and inclusivity looks like. Is it all lip service, or is someone really doing the work. In many ways, this film explores this rather well when it is grounded in reality, or at least somewhat reality. It doesn’t always work, and since the film struggles with being both social commentary and a ghost story, you end up leaving somewhat unsatisfied with the answers given, yet also impressed at least with some of the elements of the film.

Regina Hall and Zoe Renee are both terrific in this film. I’ve long been a fan of Hall, and I loved her work in Black Monday. I’m glad to see her getting more serious work, more adult work, and she is winning here. The acting as a whole is great, except perhaps for the girl who plays Jasmine’s roommate. That was a very surface performance that went nowhere, and even when her character had a brief intense emotional moment, it was still clear the actress has very limited range.

What Doesn’t Work: I already listed some things that bothered me, but this is very much a mixed bag. I oddly felt like because of the plot, I needed to know the race of characters, or at least certain characters. And I spent most of the movie assuming they were all white, and there were no black males in the film. I also felt like this film really went hard for social commentary on race, but muddled it with this supernatural element. And the film ends without giving us that satisfying ending we needed to close the book on what is real and what is not.

It makes a great deal of sense for Jasmine to be haunted, as they placed her in a haunted room. It makes less sense for Gale, who has been at the college for a minute, to be experiencing these things. If this college haunted all black students, wouldn’t it be haunting Sasha too? What was the point of introducing her, if not to show that not every black student or teacher is targeted by this presence?

I look at Amazon’s freakishly terrifying limited series Them, which clearly blended the supernatural with the realistic in a very unsettling and unnerving way. I thought that was tremendously successful in its mission, whereas I think Master would have been better served fully splitting the supernatural from the real, allowing Jasmine to be haunted, while Gale pushes forward through more real life racism.

The Blind Perspective: Really terrific audio description here. It nailed all the transitions, at least the ones it was allowed. When a film features dream sequences and ghost scenes, sometimes things just blur, and that’s how its supposed to be. The descriptions of the unnatural were solid, and I honestly believe we got a better ending because of something we aren’t able to see.

However, I spent far too much time wondering just how limited in scope race was on this campus, and who was black or not. I know what Rregina Hall looks like, from my old days, but the rest I’m not familiar with. I had to do a lot of guessing based on where the film seemed to be hinting, which I think is partially why the ending was such a surprise.

Final Thoughts: Considering I’m unfamiliar with the director, and how little they’ve done to this point, it’s a nice start to hopefully what will be a longer career. Important questions are asked, and the film is very unsettling, and scary at times. But there’s a very blurred line, and I left the film still feeling like I wasn’t sure what was real or not, and I don’t think that was the intention.

Final Grade: B minus

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