Can Someone Clean That Up: A Review of 'Master'
Full disclosure. I was unaware of what a “master” on a college campus was prior to watching this movie. I attended an HBCU for undergrad and during my PWI matriculation for graduate school, it was the first wave of social unrest here in St. Louis. So, racism was being addressed consistently when I was in higher ed. My college experiences came with their own set of challenges, but they were nothing like the horrors Black women at PWIs face frequently. “Master” left me with so many questions and theories on what it all meant. If you haven’t watched it yet, this is the part where you stop reading because there are spoilers ahead. The movie starts off with college freshman Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee) and the new master Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) settling into the campus of Ancaster, a fictional New England school. Things get eerie quickly as microaggressions, ghost stories, a vengeful witch, random Quakers, and erasure make the experience unbearable; leading to a tragic ending for one of the leads. Like most contemporary ghost stories, Mariama Diallo's "Master" can also be viewed a psychological thriller that shows the harm of racism on mental health disorders. If you’re like me, you may try to view it as a good old fashion supernatural tale only to find yourself with just as many questions. Here are my top fan theories and questions for whichever genre you choose to interpret the film.
The Psychological Thriller #1: The Witch is a Metaphor for Racism: Perhaps the most obvious interpretation of the movie is that the legend of the witch is a metaphor for the institutions racist past. This theory is supported by Jasmine's escalating interactions with the witch following every microaggression. However, it doesn’t explain Gail’s experience as she seems to be haunted by the ghost of the servant who had previously lived in her home. Were these two women one in the same? If so, why were Black students also haunted? #2: Mental Illness is a Silent Killer of Black Women: Jasmine’s fatal ending was as necessary as it was uncomfortable to watch. Her death is a turning point for Gail, who becomes the only point of view character. Gail realizes that sometimes we only see the damage of racism and/or mental illness when it’s too late. This potential takeaway leaves me with some questions around Jasmines motivation to go back to the school after her first injury, and honestly, why did she choose this school in the first place? Like seriously, where were sis’s parents?
#3: Racism is Bad for Everyone: One of the things that really stuck with my was trying to understand the roommates subplot. I landed on the significance of her roommates departure being a testament to how racism hurts everyone in the end. It shouldn’t take witnessing vandalism or sleep terrors for people to notice how hurtful racism is, but unfortunately some folks need to see it to believe it. This theory leaves me wondering what the scene in the snow was for. Was Amelia being haunted off screen as well?
The Ghost Story #4: Faculty Are All Ghosts:
Sometimes the writing (or photos) on the wall are the answers we need. If you saw the movie “Midsommer”, you’ve learned to pay attention to the art while consuming…well…art. Gail’s revelation at the end which lead to her calm exit from the university came full circle when she noticed that everyone in the room looked exactly like all of the faculty before them. It was as if they were ghosts that never left. But were they? If in fact this is the plot you choose to accept, then why are they now hiring a Black master who is alive? #5: Liv is the witch:
I’ll try not to spend too much time on this because… WHEW. Liv stressed me out. We realize early on with Liv’s teaching methods that all skin folk ain’t kin folk. Then, in the last ten minutes, we question if skin folk is even skin folk. Just to throw us off our game in deciding whether or not Liv is an opportunist or murderer; edges are snatched when she throws on a coat that looks identical to the witche's cape who was haunting Jasmine. Is sis an immortal witch, a ghost witch, or just the other itch word? If Liv is a witch or a ghost then was the lady who reached out to Gail really her mother? She’d be a few hundred years too young.
#6: Jasmine is a Ghost
Aside from a very brief scene where Jasmine emails her parents, we never really see her interact with technology. Her hobby of reading the old journals of Louisa Weeks, the black student who died by suicide in 1965 made me wonder if they were one in the same. Could Jasmine have been dead the entire time? This could explain her decision to go back to campus if she were in a time loop. But it doesn’t explain why POC upperclassman were able to interact with her.
In closing, whichever lenses you choose to explore this film, we should be able to agree that the effects of racism are as spiritual as ghosts. You may not be able to see it in others or even yourself, but it is always there. It follows us, wherever we go.
Can Someone Clean That Up: A Review of 'Master'
By Hybrie Jenae