'Master' review: College campus offers lessons in racism

Regina Hall stars in campus thriller from first-time writer-director Mariama Diallo, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

At Ancaster College, the traditions run deep, and so does the racism. 

"Master" is a thriller where the horrors of America's racist past and present are in the hot seat. Writer-director Mariama Diallo's debut feature, which plays (in more ways than one) like an undergrad "Get Out," looks at the institutional racism on college campuses through the lens of a fictional East Coast university and three Black female characters navigating its racial politics.  

Regina Hall in "Master."

Regina Hall plays Gail Bishop, who has just been named the school's first Black dean of students, or Master. Amber Gray plays Liv Beckman, a university lit professor who is up for tenure. And Zoe Renee is particularly effective as Jasmine Moore, a naïve freshman on campus who's more than a little intimidated by the number of students who freely sing along with the n-word when Sheck Wes' "Mo Bamba" comes on at a house party. 

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Each face their own challenges on the elite school's historically White campus, not the least of which is a centuries old curse that involves a witch and a haunted room that Jasmine just happens to inhabit. Other issues are more subtle but no less pressing, such as the pushback Jasmine receives from Professor Beckman on a paper meant to examine the racial undertones in "The Scarlett Letter." 

Diallo has a lot of ideas, not all of which come together, and some of which fly too low under the radar. But she creates an atmosphere that's comparable to the modern university experience and, in a larger sense, today's America. Part of the horror is that, aside from a few supernatural goings on, nothing in "Master" seems like too far of a stretch. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Master'

GRADE: B-

Rated R: for language and some drug use

Running time: 98 minutes

On Amazon Prime Video