When Mariama Diallo was writing her first feature film, “Master,” a horror story of two Black women at a predominantly white college, she didn’t have to look much further than her own experiences. Diallo’s alma mater referred to the heads of its residential colleges as “masters,” a term they claimed was non-racialized.

“I accepted it as just the way that things were at this place,” Diallo said. “Until the moment I ran into the master of my residential college several years after graduating. You addressed the master like they do in the film, as ‘Master [last name].’ That was the way that it went. His name was, I’ll say Master X, ‘cause I don’t wanna drag him. He’s a very nice guy. I saw him, I was like, ‘Master X!’ you know, and I threw out my arms. I was so excited to see him. He had a little bit of this sort of visceral recoil from just the term being used. And that’s when I started thinking about it.”

In conversation with editor-at-large Kate Aurthur for the Variety Sundance Studio presented by Audible, director Diallo and stars Regina Hall and Zoe Renee discussed why horror was the perfect genre for this particular subject matter.

“There was an element of my experience that was a horror film,” Diallo said. “The way that I could try to engage with the film most honestly was to see how I could translate through the medium a literal lived experience into an expression of the actual emotion of it. Which I would hope allows me to get to something even more true than just like the documentary version of what happened. It was a horror. That was the space that all of that world lived in. And I knew that that was the world that the characters would live in. And I knew that Gail was living in a horror film.”

Watch the full conversation above.