“There’s a paradoxical relationship in which you know you’re really loved but also really hated”: Martine Syms on The African Desperate
With The African Desperate, Martine Syms channels her skills as a visual artist and her experience of the contemporary art world into an unconventional coming-of-age comedy satire for her feature debut. With work that is att times reminiscent of Michaela Coel’s experimental and trippy I May Destroy You, Syms plays around with narrative and form to create an immersive “day-in-the-life-of” a Black student on the cusp of graduating with a Masters in Fine Art from art college.
We follow the orange-haired protagonist, Palace, from a gruelling academic panel critiquing her work with barely veiled racist commentary through to drug-induced hallucinations and backseat hookups at her final college party, making both good and bad decisions, being both confident and unsure. Through her eyes, viewers see the contradictions and pretence of the art and fashion world that both embraces and resents her as a Black artist, being racist while trying to be woke, exclusive while pretending to be progressive, appropriating her culture while ostensibly celebrating it. It’s a playful, often hilarious, yet sharply incisive film that captures on a visceral level the full spectrum of micro-aggression to outright racism experienced by a young woman of colour in the creative industries, and the impact such heightened visibility has on one’s identity and self-realisation.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of chatting with Syms during the London Film Festival ahead of The African Desperate landing on Mubi. She spoke about collaborating with her friend, Diamond Stingily, who takes on the lead role, capturing the experiences of a young Black woman in a nuanced way, and her reflections on discrimination in the art world.
The African Desperate is released on Mubi on 21st October 2022.
Watch the trailer for The African Desperate here: