by Andrew Osborne
While many of the projects screened this year at South by Southwest are still making the rounds of the festival circuit in search of distribution, two that centered on black female leads reacting to societal bias are already streaming on Amazon Prime — but only one of them is likely to be a crowd-pleaser.
LIZZO’S WATCH OUT FOR THE BIG GRRRLS
And sure, reality competitions arguably have an unfair advantage thanks to the addictive durability of the format. Yet based on the charming pilot episode made available to critics, it’s hard to deny that many viewers of Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls will likely binge their way through all eight episodes of the first season without stopping. That’s partly because the proudly zaftig music sensation at the center of it all (pulling double duty as host and executive producer) is such a compelling presence. But the fact that she’s offering similarly large and lovely performers a chance to show their stuff while competing for the opportunity to perform as backup dancers on a world tour adds sky-high stakes and drama while making the inevitable eliminations especially bittersweet.
On the other hand, writer/director Mariama Diallo’s thriller starring Regina Hall is just good enough to frustrate expectations about the better film it might have been. The latest in the post-Get Out subgenre of horror movies where (spoiler alert!) the monster is racism, Master‘s central protagonist is Gail Bishop, the first black woman appointed to the titular position at a seemingly progressive Northeastern university beset by real world hate crimes like a cross-burning as well as rumors of a supposedly haunted dormitory room. Yet while the logy 99-minute running time is packed with genre signifiers and sprinkled with interesting thematic ideas and plot developments, Diallo inevitably seems to lose interest in most of them. She throws in a bizarre twist then quickly backs away from it. An isolated, endangered black freshman crosses paths with potential allies who are never mentioned again. And intriguing character nuances are continually brushed against without deeper exploration, all in service of an ending that’s not really scary, sad, or disturbing so much as a resigned shrug of abnegation.