Is it possible to change perspectives and behaviors that originate from deep-rooted beliefs? “Master,” directed by Mariama Diallo, tries to find an answer to that question. The film is no less than an analysis of the discrimination faced by the black community, a third man’s perspective on the situation, and also how deeply embedded these prejudices are in the human psyche. A guard who asks for an ID from a black person, when he is not asking the same from white folks, isn’t necessarily because he wants to belittle the black individual or consciously wants to discriminate, but he actually finds it suspicious that they have some genuine business at the place and discards their intentions as being bona fide in nature. This presumption, this subconscious action that generally stems from the perspective of a notionally non-black individual, due to their upbringing in a society that abides by certain ideologies, is more lethal than blatant and purposeful discrimination. Intentional discrimination can still be pointed out, if not rectified, but thinking about microaggression means that you are fighting against society, the way it thinks, the way it perceives, and the way it reacts.
Mariama Diallo found the inspiration for “Master” from her own experiences at Yale, where she faced a lot of microaggressions. “Master” is bent towards creating a sort of poetry and a rhythm with its narrative, rather than creating moments of horror, and that specifically does not work for anybody looking for it. Generally, in these kinds of films that abstain from jump scares, it is the eerie atmospherics and the dampened spirits of the characters that do the heavy lifting. “Master,” though it tries its best to do both, isn’t as effective as it promises to be.
“Master” tries to talk in a symbolic language, but it ends up leaving open crevices in the narrative, where a lot of times the intention of the filmmaker isn’t clearly understood, or sometimes too bland to pique the interest. Let’s try to understand the viewpoint of the filmmaker and infer the symbolism.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Master’ Plot Summary
Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) had worked her way up the ladder. She finally moved into her new quarters, as she was now the “Master” at Ancaster, a college in New England. It was the first time a black woman held that position. She had come to Ancaster with a motive to bring about a change. The school was vouching for diversification (like how we have seen in recent times that it has become a trademark of a prestigious institution), and Gail Bishop was maybe the first step towards it. The eerie tone is set with a pulsating background score and the door of Gail’s residence opening by itself, which earlier wasn’t, no matter how much Gail tried.
Jasmine Moore, a freshman at Ancaster, gets “the room,” though we are not told the story behind the infamous room. There is a lot going on inside Jasmine, but we don’t know the reason behind it. A black worker in a mess all of a sudden starts sulking as soon as she sees Jasmine, for no reason, apparently. Jasmine sees horrific images in the paintings hanging in the school, and blinks to find it completely normal, as if she was hallucinating. She goes back to her room one day to find out that her roommate, Amelia, had called her friends over. Tyler, one of the guys, finally tells them the folklore behind their room.
Jasmine tells everybody that she used to sleepwalk, and we see her getting night terrors on more than one occasion. She wakes up in a sweat, unable to comprehend whether it was reality or a dream. Scratches on her hand and behind her neck point towards the presence of some sinister creature or spirit in the room. She doesn’t tell anybody. She does not have anybody to confide in. There are friends with whom she does not share a lot of things, and her relationship with her roommate, Amelia, also goes for a toss, as the latter finds her making out with her boyfriend.
Though Gail tries to be there for her, as she had been on the same boat once, she isn’t able to become her confidant as she would have liked. She tells Jasmine that her college had only three black students, and many times their identities were mistaken for each other. Jasmine has an argument with Liv Beckman, a professor up for tenure, who gives her an F for the analysis she did of a novel called The Scarlet Letter. The analysis had to be done through the perspective of race, but Jasmine was unable to find any such notion in it. Jasmine’s friend gets a B+, even though she cooked up something that Jasmine felt was totally irrelevant. Jasmine files a motion disputing the grading system and the decision of Liv.
Jasmine starts researching about the history of Ancaster and the gruesome events that had happened in the past, as she feels the presence of a supernatural entity around her. She had physical evidence to support that, too, like the engraving on her room door, which spelled out “Leave” with a noose hanging on the doorknob.
What Was The Folklore Of Room 302 At The Ancaster College?
It was said that the whole school was cursed. A woman named Margaret Millet chose a freshman every year, and the chosen one ended up committing suicide. Margaret Miller was hanged on December 3rd, 1694, as she was accused of practicing witchcraft. Every year on December 3rd, at precisely 3:33, Margaret Millet used to kill the person living in room 302.
A student named Louisa Weeks was the first student of color at the college in the year 1965, and she was staying in room 302, in the Belleville House dormitory. Louisa Weeks was found hanging in her room by her friend. Jasmine starts going through the personal belongings of Louisa Weeks that she finds in the college archives. Louisa’s academic career and personal life had an uncanny resemblance to that of Jasmine. Both had a great record in school and had moved to Ancaster to make a mark for themselves. Both were not in touch with their respective families and were a bit of an outcast. Even Louisa heard strange noises in the night and felt like somebody was knocking on the door.
Why Does Liv Beckman Fake Her Identity Of Being A Black Person?
Though Jasmine survives when she jumps from her window, as she feels the spirit of Margaret Millet is chasing her, she commits suicide in room 302. Gail discovers that and is heartbroken. Another revelation is made when Gail meets Liv’s mom, who had been trying to contact her for quite some time. She tells Gail that Liv had been pretending to be a black woman all this time, but in reality, she had been born to white parents. Liv is granted tenure, and Ancaster college tries to clean up its public image, by giving a woman of color a permanent status in their college. The college authorities were more cautious because there was a history of racial abuse that was attached to the institution. With Jasmine committing suicide, the talk about the college being against diversification has once again surfaced.
By giving an F to Jasmine, Liv wanted to show that she was all for diversification and that race didn’t come in between her duties. She was up for tenure, and the faculty was in no mood to give her one, considering they felt she was not qualified enough. But Jasmine committed suicide, and Liv got the advantage as the college had to clean up its image. They appointed her. Whether Liv played the race card intentionally or not, is a dubious proposition as she held onto the fact till the very end that her mother was lying when she said that she was born to white parents. She tells Gail that she was the illegitimate daughter of a black man, and her mother didn’t want to tell anyone about that.
‘Master’ Ending, Explained: What Does Gail Bishop Realize In The End?
In the last sequence, Gail gets an epiphany of sorts. She confronts Liv in front of everybody. She calls her a fraudster and discredits her noble intentions. She sees the pictures kept on the side tables and hung on the walls, being recreated in real life. The men in the pictures come to life, and she finds them around her, in the party, sitting at the table, having a drink, as if they never left. She blurts out words, saying, “And it’s never gonna change,” while surrounded by her colleagues.
The director symbolically portrays that the world never changed. The people, their biased opinions, the discrimination, the abuse, the prejudice, were all still a part of the contemporary times. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t change a thing. She thought herself to be the “Master,” but in reality, she was just a maid who was appointed as one to clean up the mess and improve the image of the institution. In the last scene, the security guard asks her for an ID and asks if she worked there. But Gail had made up her mind. She resigns from her post and leaves the institution for good.
“Master” is a 2022 Drama Horror Film directed by debut director Mariama Diallo.