Throughout film history, the genre of horror is often filled with the elements of gory images, shock value, and unrealism–but what if your actual reality already resembled a horror show in itself? For director Mariama Diallo, she placed her experiences at the center of Master’s plot for it to stand as a redefinition to what categorization of horror traditionally entails.
Master follows the interconnected stories of Gail Bishop (Regina Hall), Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), and Liv Beckman (Amber Gray), who are all battling their own demons once being faced with the torment that lies within the halls of Ancaster College. While the genre-bender film is Diallo’s life experiences and perspective personified into a film, the three central characters mirror the institutionalized racism, racial prejudice, and microaggressions that members of the Black community encounter on a day-to-day basis.
From its premiere at Sundance Film Festival to its recent screening at the SXSW Film Festival, the film’s audience has been outspoken about how Master is a thorough reflection of the terror they’ve navigated in their own personal lives. As the film’s leading women each struggle with finding a sense of belonging, their hardship on-screen in turn has created assurance for viewers to know that their pain is both understood and shared by others, that they’re not by themselves in the ongoing fight against racism embedded in social institutions.
"Seeing people's response to the film, that's been wonderful. We've had a lot of people, like, ‘I felt like that,’ ‘I experienced that. That was really on the nose,’ Regina Hall tells Shadow and Act.
After going from starring in the comedy parody Scary Movie series to booking as the lead of horror film, it’s more Black storytellers like Diallo being given opportunities that will birth more Black leading actors in the genre — ultimately making it become less of a rare instance in Hollywood. We’ll see more Daniel Kaluuya’s, Lupita Nyongo’s and now, Regina Hall’s dominating in horror roles.
“Having filmmakers like Mariama and content creators being diversified, then you’re having different stories being told,” Hall said. “And I think this point of view, obviously it had to come from Mariama, who’s experienced that world who was able to write it. And the support of Amazon to say, ‘Wait, we think there’s an audience for this.’”
Star Zoe Renee chimes in on the power of feeling seen
“As hard as it is to watch, after talking to the audience that was there [at the viewing] last night, people felt seen. Like a story that they experienced was told. It didn’t solve it. It didn’t fix it, but it was told,” Zoe Renee explained.
“And I think that’s what’s so important about cinema is that we tell stories that are true and are honest. Horror can be hard to see sometimes, scary, and triggering. But, I think that when we watch Master, one thing that I took away from it is, yep, I’ve been there and it sucks. It sucks that I have, but also I know for a fact now I was not alone and I was not crazy,” she shared on what she hopes Black viewers leave with after watching the film.
As the success of genre bending thrillers has taken over the box office and streaming platforms as of late, Diallo hopes to serve as an extension of the movement with her debut body of work.
“I could only hope that Master as part of the conversation can shake things up a little bit and show that we can do some unconventional things in the narrative,” Diallo expressed. “That we can defy expectations. I certainly don’t think that I’m the first person to do that, but I’m just excited to add my voice to the conversation and hope that so many other new voices follow me.”
Master is now streaming on Prime Video.
Watch our full interview with Hall, Diallo and Renee above.