The Attendant

A young white man visits a gallery of old master paintings. When the museum closes, he stays behind, arousing the sexual fantasies of an older black museum attendant. In one of these fantasies, the 19th-century painting ‘The Slave Trade (Slaves on the West Coast of Africa)’ by French artist François-Auguste Biard metamorphosises into a group of leather-clad gay men. With an activist’s commitment, Isaac Julien takes a look at the sexual and racist dynamics of power from a cultural-historical perspective. Made with the support of the Black Audio Film Collective (1982-1998) in a period under the sway of Thatcherism and the AIDS crisis, the film impressively and poetically explores the topics of imperialism, queer self-determination, lust and death.


  • Runtime

    8 min
  • Country

    Great Britain
  • Year of Presentation

  • Year of Production

  • Director

    Isaac Julien
  • Cast

    Thomas Baptiste, Cleo Sylvestre, John Wilson
  • Production Company

    Normal Films
  • Berlinale Section

  • Berlinale Category

Biography Isaac Julien

Isaac Julien has forged a critical dialogue on issues of race and sexuality through his work in film, video installation, and photography. Julien, who is based in London, first gained international attention in the 1980s for his provocative feature films, documentaries and experimental video works, which explored black and gay identities. His more recent multi-media installation works extend this inquiry into poetic yet politically charged meditations on representations of race and sexuality.
Isaac Julien was born in 1960 in London. He graduated from St. Martin's School of Art in 1984, where he studied painting and fine art film. He founded the Sankofa Film and Video Collective, and was a founder member of Normal Films in 1999. He received the Semaine de la Critique Prize at Cannes Film Festival, and has received a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship Award; the Pratt and Whitney Canada Grand Prize; an Andy Warhol Foundation Award; Grand Jury Award, KunstFilmBiennale, Cologne, Germany, and a Ford Foundation Award. He has exhibited at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Art Pace, San Antonio, Texas; FACT, Film Art & Creative Technology, Liverpool, England; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Studio Museum of Harlem, New York. His film installations and photographs have been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Tate Liverpool, England; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; P.S.1 Center for Contemporary Art, New York; Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art. His films have been screened at the Dakar Biennale, Senegal; Jeonju International Film Festival, Korea; Rotterdam Film Festival, The Netherlands; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and Tate Britain, London, among others.
Isaac Julien lives and works in London.

Filmography Isaac Julien

1991 Young Soul Rebels | 2010 Better Life | 2013 Playtime | 2015 Stones Against Diamonds | 2019 Ghost of Lina Bo Bardi