Growing up a mixed-raced kid in Chaska and, later, trying to get acting work in Hollywood, writer/director Anna Halberg often felt like an outsider. So she made sure that tfolks who look like her feel welcomed into "Tarot," the horror movie that opens in 3,500 theaters Friday.

"I felt different and discriminated against" in Minnesota, said Halberg — who adds that she loves the state and gets back here whenever she can. "There wasn't a lot of diversity. Being half-Japanese, I think it was something people weren't used to."

Halberg, 37, did some community theater to hone her acting chops, always aware there were roles she was missing out on because she's half Japanese and half Danish. The Chaska High School graduate moved to Los Angeles, hoping that she'd find more opportunity there. Instead, an agent told her to try dyeing her hair blond and wearing blue contact lenses.

"I started auditioning for films and TV series during pilot season. Being mixed ethnicity and diverse was not as popular as it is now. There were not that many people in television or film who were representative of cultural diversity, which I found frustrating," recalled Halberg by phone from California. "I would get really close and they would come back often with I wasn't Asian enough to fit in a family or I was too Asian."

Annoyed that she kept missing out on roles, Halberg resolved to help change the system from within. "Tarot," her writing/directing/producing feature debut with creative partner Spenser Cohen, is the result. It features a wildly diverse group of friends who have one big thing in common: After monkeying around with a tarot deck they found in a vacation rental they were sharing, they're being bumped off one by one by a dark, supernatural force.

"It became frustrating that I couldn't do what I loved because of the way I looked and that I wasn't seeing representation," said Halberg, who studied film at the University of Southern California (where she met Cohen). "I learned production with the idea of casting people who looked like the world looks."

That doesn't mean that, as a filmmaker, she has to be nice to them, though. The seven pals in "Tarot" (one of whom mentions that she grew up in Minnesota) are in peril from beginning to end and a few of them die bloody deaths. Cohen and Halberg, who's a big fan of "The Shining," both respond to the way genre movies allow filmmakers to sneak in real-world themes when audiences least expect them.

"I think it's a really interesting way to be able to comment on actual societal issues that are going on without hitting people over the head with a message," said Halberg, who makes a brief appearance in "Tarot" as a detective who questions the friends.

She likes how horror offers a chance to explore "things that are a little left of center or five minutes in the future. If you look back through history, the horror films that really connected with audiences are the ones that reflected the times we're living in."

Another fascination that making the movie allowed the Chaska native to explore is the supernatural. She and Cohen glommed onto the spirit world rule that there are nasty consequences if you mess with another person's tarot deck, using it as a reflection of the real-world rule that, when you're in a vacation rental, you should never peek behind the door that's marked "Personal/Do Not Enter." The friends in "Tarot" break both of those rules.

Halberg has never read anyone else's tarot cards but she has had hers read and she found it illuminating: "You learn about yourself and you learn about the future. In researching this movie, I found it to be really insightful and just a lot of fun."

She's also a horoscope aficionado who describes herself as "a true Virgo. I am very organized. I'm a Type A personality, very put together and on top of things. I think it can be a little obnoxious, as well, but it is good for directing."

Halberg and Cohen already have their next project lined up, a horror movie they're making with Blumhouse Productions ("Five Nights at Freddy's," "Insidious") called "You Take Care Now." Halberg said it's "messed up and fun" and, like "Tarot," will reflect the way our world really looks.