‘The African Desperate’ Trailer: Martine Syms’ Feature Debut Deconstructs Race in the High Art World

·2 min read

Los Angeles-based artist Martine Syms is turning the high art world upside down with her feature debut “The African Desperate.”

A coming-of-age comedy, the film premiered at New Directors/New Films this year as the closing night selection, and opens in theaters September 16 at Brooklyn Arts Museum (BAM) and the Quad in New York City, as well as select theaters nationwide, from Mubi

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Per the official synopsis, “The African Desperate” tracks one very long day for Palace Bryant (an expertly deadpan Diamond Stingily), a newly minted MFA grad whose final day of art school becomes a real trip. Palace is not going to the fucking graduation party! She hates the woods. If this were a reality show, she would be the person who was not here to make friends. Palace needs to get home, back to Chicago from upstate New York. But that means surviving a hazy, hilarious, and hallucinatory night-long odyssey, stumbling from academic critiques to backseat hookups.

BAM curated a program of Syms’ cinematic influences, running from September 9 through September 15 leading up to the September 16 premiere of “The African Desperate.” With films like “Eve’s Bayou,” “Working Girls,” “Go,” and “Party Monster” among the selected films, the BAM centerpiece curation includes “indie classics to hidden gems by major directors and avant-garde pieces by contemporary visual artists” for a “radical exploration of youth culture” across generations, per a programming note.

Syms has displayed her work at solo exhibitions at MoMA, ICA London, the Tate Modern, and Art Institute of Chicago. Syms has also done commissioned work for brands such as Prada, Nike, Celine, Kanye West, and NTS, among others. She is a recipient of the Creative Capital Award, a United States Artists fellowship, the Tiffany Foundation award, and the Future Fields Art Prize. Syms additionally is in a band called Aunt Sister and hosts Double Penetration, a monthly radio show on NTS. She also runs Dominica Publishing.

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote in the New Directors/New Films 2022 excerpt that “The African Desperate” tackles “Black identity, queer theory, and the power of language” to examine the exclusionary nature of the high art world.

“Starring fellow artist Diamond Stingily as her protagonist Palace, ‘The African Desperate’ seems to chronicle a world the duo know a lot about: American art schools, so often white, rigid, and not too interested in mixing things up,” Erbland penned.

“The African Desperate” is written by Syms and co-writer Rocket Caleshu.

Check out the trailer, an IndieWire exclusive, below.

“The African Desperate” - Credit: Mubi
“The African Desperate” - Credit: Mubi

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