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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Master

by writer/director Mariama Diallo

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
- Audre Lorde

Once upon a time I had a master. So did everyone I knew. As Yale undergrads, we were assigned a “master” before even stepping foot on the campus. Something between a dean and R.A., a master was a faculty member who lived in each one of the then-twelve residential colleges, in what was fittingly (and chillingly) called the Master’s House.

I regret to say that after the origins of the term were explained away—the title is borrowed from the British educational system—the practice of calling an older white man “master” went down surprisingly easily for me. It was only after running into the master of my residential college years after graduating that I was struck by the perversity of the term. That I had so readily welcomed into my life, a man I called master caused me to look with doubt and suspicion upon my entire undergraduate experience. What else had I blindly accepted?

I immediately began to think of a film. I knew from the beginning that I would title it Master, and I knew that I wanted to follow a Black woman who had recently been promoted into that position. The rest of the story flowed from there. I imagined the school’s setting in a Salem-esque town. I thought of the loneliness and isolation of that first semester’s slow march into winter, the early winter darkness of the northeast, and the harsh, unforgiving landscape that I thought I had left behind.

Horror has always been at the core of this film. Ancaster is a school intoxicated by its history and shackled to its past. Despite making outward gestures towards a desire for progress, the school keeps Master Gail Bishop—played by Regina Hall—and first year student Jasmine Moore—played by Zoe Renee—locked in spaces haunted by the ghosts of the school’s past.

Both Gail and Jasmine begin the semester feeling hopeful, certain that through their individual efforts, they will be able to leave their stamp on the institution. However, as the film unfolds, questions emerge as to how sincerely the fictional Ancaster College wants to reform itself.

These two black women both contend with a number of hostile forces, from both human and possibly supernatural sources, that almost none of the other non-black characters seem aware of.

Isn’t that so often the experience of racism? As with the character in a haunted house film that catches on long before all the others, being black in America can feel like pointing to a malevolent force that everyone around you is unable or unwilling to see.

In making Master, I wanted to bring these ghosts to the fore. I wanted to affirm what I experienced and witnessed—not just in my own life, but in that of my friends, professors and family. We have been haunted for a long time. Now I want everyone to see.

I hope you enjoy the film.

Posted March 17, 2022

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