I just added a new film to my ever-growing list of favorites of this year. Mariama Diallo’s Master (our review) is just amazing. It’s thoughtful, but packs a mean punch and doesn’t fuck around with the story it’s trying to tell. It will make you think but is also super freaking creepy and scary. To celebrate the release of Master, which you can now watch on Amazon Prime, I chatted with Mariama via Zoom about the inspiration behind the film, why she loves horror, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: Hi Mariama! I love Master. I thought it was amazing, so it’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Mariama Diallo: Thank you so much!
PopHorror: What inspired Master?
Mariama Diallo: You know, I had a very direct moment. A spark of inspiration that involved running into the Master of my residential college a few years after graduating, which was a position that used to exist at Yale and it was really similar to what we see in the film. A Gail-like figure, but in my case, an older white man. And I ran into him and I greeted him very joyously because he’s a lovely, awesome guy, and I called out across the street—this is New York City—I called out his name, which starts with “Master.” We both kind of stopped in our tracks, and I realized really and truly only in that moment how weird, bizarre, twisted that whole thing is. And it really stuck with me and as I was going home, I started thinking, “Wow, wow…” First of all, what the hell? And then second of all, I was like, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to write about this, and then everything sort of took off from there.
PopHorror: Wow! What a start to your film! Was there anything in your script that you were adamant about keeping, no matter what?
Mariama Diallo: Yeah, actually yes. There is an aspect of Jasmine’s storyline that is really heartbreaking and really difficult. I’m leaving it a little vague I guess, just in case I don’t spoil it.
PopHorror: I get it.
Mariama Diallo: I think that you know what I’m talking about. It was questioned a little bit in terms of whether it was too hard of a choice to make for the film and for that character. And I understood that. I thought about it carefully, but ultimately, I just decided that I had to be honest and I had to go there, and that felt like the truest expression of this character’s journey and storyline.
PopHorror: I’m so glad you stood your ground and kept it.
Mariama Diallo: Thank you.
PopHorror: This film hits on a lot of important and heavy issues. What do you hope people walk away with after watching your film?
Mariama Diallo: You know, this question surprised me. It’s interestingly more complicated than I would have expected because I think that, in a certain sense, I have let go of that—and I am a very controlling person, just naturally in my life—but in terms of my expectations for the audience, I have, in a sense, let go of that and I leave it open to them. And I almost don’t, even in my own head, enter into the space of trying to steer or direct or meddle in the conclusions that they reach.
I think when you see the more open ending or a little bit of the ambiguity that for me is so fun to play in, that’s what’s interesting to me. I think that’s what’s interesting and what’s valuable about leaving the space for the viewer to project their ideas into the film as well, is that it expands everything. So, I hope that people are shaken up. I hope that they’re really moved, and I hope that they really emphasize with the characters and I hope that they’re able to enter into their experiences and understand them a little bit better, and really feel their inner lives. And then I’m also excited to see where else they go from there.
PopHorror: I think that you were very successful. I definitely was moved, and it does make you feel uncomfortable at times.
Mariama Diallo: Oh good!
PopHorror: I spoke to Zoe [Renee] yesterday, and she mentioned that you’re a huge horror fan, and that you made her watch Rosemary’s Baby and some other stuff to prepare for shooting. What is it that draws you to horror?
Mariama Diallo: Oh gosh, there are so many things. I think that horror is just fun. It’s so immediate. It’s so visceral and emotional, and it’s so honest in a certain sense. So I love all those aspects of the film and the storytelling. I love the moment when you sit down to watch a horror film, and you buckle your seatbelt and you wonder where it’s going to take you. What is it going to expose you to?
Horror films are really transgressive and they push boundaries. They’re really set out to challenge viewers in a sense and to make people uncomfortable in one way or another. Even the dumbest horror film is trying to push you into this place of discomfort where the stakes are so high, you feel like, for a couple of hours, that you might drop dead in that theater. I just think it’s so powerful, and it’s fun and amazing.
PopHorror: Those are some of the best ones! The ones that make you feel it in a movie theater because you’re not in such a small, intimate setting like your house. You’re in a theater and feeling. Those are the best.
Mariama Diallo: I remember seeing Hereditary at the theater, and I was ready to jump out of my skin! It was one of those films where you’re like, nothing is even really happening. Nothing had even gone on, but I was just waiting for the next thing to happen. I love that.
PopHorror: I do too! What is up next for you, Mariama?
Mariama Diallo: So I have this idea. It’s in the really, really early days, but I’m excited by it, and it feels like fun. And it’s also a horror film. I’ve been just thinking about the world and the characters and the story. I’m just really, really excited to write it and hopefully be shooting it before too long.
PopHorror: Well, I’m excited to see it! You’ve definitely piqued my interest because Master was so good.
Mariama Diallo: Thank you! Oh, my God.
PopHorror: I just have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Mariama Diallo: This is like the start of Scream!
PopHorror: That’s a little bit on purpose.
Mariama Diallo: Right? I love that. I’m not sure if I could choose one. If I could rattle off a few really quickly, it would be The Shining, Don’t Look Now, Rosemary’s Baby, my God. Carrie… Of recent ones, Let the Right One In, Get Out, Hereditary, The Witch. I also feel like for me and Michael Haneke—he’s kind of like a horror director who doesn’t make horror films—but his films are somehow so horrific. The French film he did, Caché, I love, and I felt really inspired by it while I was making Master, and just return to so many of his films. All of those and more.
Thank you so much, Mariama, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to catch Master, now available on Amazon Prime.