‘Master’ Explores The Scary Realities of Academia [Sundance 2022]


Master sets out to capture the experiences of two Black women at a predominantly white university. Jasmin (played by Zoe Renee) is an incoming freshman that’s one of the very few Black students on campus. Meanwhile, Gail (played by Regina Hall) has just become the school’s first “Black Master”. She’s also one of two Black faculty members in her department. The microaggressions both face are where the real horror of the movie lives. It is also sadly relatable to any Black woman who has had to navigate academia. However, polite racism becomes overt in what is some very upsetting imagery as the film reminds us it picked this location for a reason: to draw parallels between the Salem Witch Trials and the school’s racist legacy.

Also Read: ‘Something in the Dirt’ Is An Intimate And Tender Piece of Cosmic Horror [Sundance 2022]

REGINA HALL and AMBER GRAY star in MASTER Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Hall gives a great performance that reminds people she can do more than the comedies most people associate her with. The way Gail’s colleagues weaponize her Blackness against other colleagues while coaching her to market it for the institution’s gains is gross. It is also very much the American academic landscape. Renee’s portrayal of Jasmin is so relatable that it literally hurts. The way she has to pretend to laugh off microaggressions from her classmates and deflect white people’s assumptions is a skill set that is sadly common for Black kids.

The unspoken trauma bond between the two is one of the things that makes this movie compelling. We watch both give up parts of themselves to try to find their place in a space that accepts the idea of Blackness. But these people aren’t ready to accept the reality of Black people in their spaces. We see their experiences mirrored as the movie drives home that nothing ever really changes and this is an inescapable issue.

Also Read: In The Disturbing ‘Speak No Evil’, Politeness Is Wielded Like A Weapon [Sundance 2022]

ZOE RENEE stars in MASTER Photo: Linda Kallerus

I feel like two movies are fighting to coexist here. As someone that was the only Black woman in her department in grad school, and then turned around to be one of two Black women faculty members in a department at a different PWI, I agree there is a lot of psychological horror in this world. This works in favor of this movie because it gets to play on real-world scenarios. It also has characters that are familiar almost to the point of being triggering. There is also something to be said for the helpless feeling of becoming a cog in a broken wheel. The second movie layers on the witchcraft and supernatural elements. It at times feels like it’s there for people who don’t want to understand that the anti-Blackness on display is the real horror. 

Also Read: ‘You Won’t Be Alone’ Is Gorgeous, Plodding Folk Horror [Sundance 2022]

Because everything about the movie seems a little off it makes the twist a little surprising. We know something is coming. We even know what stands out as more suspicious than everything else. However, the big picture eluded us because the reveal comes so late in the film that we almost forget about it. I sincerely wish we could have had just a few more moments after the final shoe drops. We get some very on the nose conversations that lead to nothing being resolved instead. While it’s refreshing to see people stop dancing around buzzwords and politeness to get real, we don’t get enough of this at any point in the movie for it to not feel jarring.

I’m excited for this movie to hit Amazon Prime on March 18th because I found myself wanting to know what other Black women academics feel about this movie. I have very complex feelings after the second viewing. On one hand, I see a horror movie for those of us who get it. On the other hand, I see a horror movie that seems layered on top to bring it home for those who don’t want to get it. While I like both movies fine enough, I just don’t know if they complement each other. 

  • Master


The real horror at times takes a backseat to the more traditional kind of horror. However, ‘Master’ still gives us a lot to talk about and is worth the watch.



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