Master: the horror film that educates American higher education

With a horror movie that suggests that American higher education is hopelessly committed to racial and sexual exploitation, Mariama Diallo does nothing but thank the academy for the way it has taught her.

“The film can be read as a polemic against academia,” Ms. Diallo admitted with great understatement in an interview about her first feature film, Master, just released by Amazon Studios. “But it’s also a space that I’m so close to and also love a lot.”

The signs of this love escape completely the 91 minute experience. Ms. Diallo graduated in 2010 from Yale University, and Master centers on two black women – a student and a professor – experiencing severe racial abuse at Ancaster College, a fictional centuries-old New England institution largely inspired by its experience in the Ivy League.

Ms. Diallo wrote and directed Master. She admitted the name was one of the first ideas behind the project, a reflection of her revulsion at the term – imposed on centuries of enslaved black Americans, and still used throughout her years. undergraduate years as a title for heads of residential colleges—when she remembered it from a chance encounter with a professor years after graduating from Yale.


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This one improvement aside – Yale got rid of the word in 2016 – Master depicts a world of higher education forever frozen in time. The student protagonist, a student named Jasmine (played by Zoe Renee), endures the almost uniform ignorance and cruelty of her white classmates. The faculty’s protagonist, a new residential master named Gail (Regina Hall), is met with a somewhat milder but still relentless mark of ignorance from her colleagues.

Between them is another teacher, Liv (Amber Grey), with biracial features and intentionally ambiguous origins, intentions and alliances.

None come out well, suffering professional, personal and supernatural/white attacks.

Ancaster and its predominantly white population show virtually no redeeming characteristics, and Ms. Diallo made no apologies for this imbalance. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t believe it,” she said. Times Higher Education.

After graduating from Yale, she spent a few years as an assistant at Baruch College, teaching mostly English. Her mother is a retired teacher at LaGuardia Community College in New York. Her father is an immigrant from Senegal with a doctorate in linguistics from the University of London who promotes education and human rights.

This background depth informs the plot. A key triggering moment involves Liv asking her literature class to write a racial analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne The scarlet letter, and the problems that arise from Jasmine’s inability to comply. A British classmate clearly shows her talent for riffing on any subject. Jasmine remains baffled because she doesn’t yet have the necessary first-hand experience, Ms Diallo explained, and “her integrity doesn’t allow herself to write about something she doesn’t really believe”.

For all the bashing of higher education, Ms Diallo warned that “in some ways the film even kicked in.” Individuals inside universities aren’t necessarily problematic, but the system can generate extreme hostility, she said. “The lifetime of accumulated stories, between my mother’s own experience as a teacher and mine as a student, could make the vision much more difficult than even the film suggests,” she said. .

Yet Yale was also “an incredible opportunity” that she wouldn’t suggest other minority students turn down. “One of the things I can thank Yale for is helping me hone and refine my ability to critically analyze,” she said. “And one of the places I shot it, ultimately, was in school.”

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About Herbert L. Leonard

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