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Laramie Movie Scope: Master

A racist campus ghost story

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 29, 2022 – I generally avoid horror movies, but I decided to watch this one because it stars the talented Regina Hall (“The Hate U Give”) and it has an interesting premise.

Hall plays Gail Bishop, the first black Master (head of house) at fictional Ancaster University in Massachusetts, located near the site of a witch hanging. New student Jasmine Moore (played by Zoe Renee of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase”) is assigned a room which is said to be haunted by a witch. Bishop lives in the same house as Moore.

Both Bishop and Moore start seeing and hearing strange things in the creepy old house. They are among only a handful of blacks on campus and they feel the weight of hundreds of years of white privilege weighing down on them in this university, one of the nation's oldest.

Bishop starts to hang out with another black faculty member, Liv Beckman (played by Amber Gray of “The Underground Railroad”) who is up for tenure, but is facing resistance from the tenure committee, who are all white, except for Bishop. This puts both Bishop and Beckman in uncomfortable positions.

As if Beckman's position isn't tenuous enough, Jasmine Moore is disputing an “F” grade she gets from Beckman on an essay, which further hurts her chances of getting tenure. These strange circumstances pit three black women against each other. On top of that, someone, or some group is out to harass Moore, who is unpopular with some students. A noose is attached to her door, and a cross is burned outside her dorm window.

The white power structure at the university seems fairly indifferent to these events, but Bishop is very upset. Moore becomes obsessed with what happened to another black student, Louisa Weeks, who long ago hanged herself in the same room where Moore is now staying. Reading Week's diary, she sees parallels to her own recent experiences.

In addition to the noose and the burning cross, Moore sees strange hooded figures lurking on campus. Bishop sees members of a conservative religious community near campus, and she seems to see the ghost of a black maid who lived in the attic of the house she is now living in.

Bishop is unable to stop Moore's downward spiral, and she and Beckman both have their blowups with the white power structures on campus. All three women see racism and white supremacy as something that will never change. The ghosts of the past never left. The ghosts of the past are here, and always will be at Ancaster University. Each of these three women take very different paths in response to this same realization.

Writer and director Mariama Diallo creates a suitably creepy atmosphere in this movie, without ever resorting to outright supernatural narrative or visual devices. The pseudo-supernatural narrative in this movie can be readily viewed as a psychological drama. What really happens is never fully explained. This is an example of a currently fashionable brand of ambivalent storytelling.

A lot of details about the pressures of being a college student are explored to some degree in this movie, along with a lot of current trends in society. This is a movie that gives the viewer much to think about in addition to its main ghost stories. The performances of the three main characters are all strong and convincing. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]