The image of Paris a lot of people outside of Paris have – and the image a lot of people in France actually want to maintain – looks a lot more like Emily in Paris than it looks like reality. What does the typical Parisian woman do? What does she wear? And, more importantly, what does she look like? The reality, is of course, much more diverse than that show, or most others, and it certainly doesn’t fit the idea sold on TV.
In the spirit if, if not changing that, because change is a gradual thing, but at least starting the conversation, we talked to director and equality activist Rokhaya Diallo about La Parisienne démystifiée, which will premiere next Monday in the US, and we were surprised by the way this project informed the way we look not just at France, but at the world. We, however, were not surprised to hear that, for Diallo, becoming an activist wasn’t really a choice.
“It wasn’t a decision,” she shared, but something that came out of the fact that she kept being questioned about the Parisian aspect of her identity – something she felt like she needed to make others, even those close to her, face. “So being part of France, being born here in Paris, I really wanted to feel included and to just make sure that our country would take everyone into account. So, it’s not something that I decided very clearly, but at some point, I think I really wanted to be part of the people who were trying to shape another idea of France, and especially of Paris.”
As someone who has visited Paris numerous times, the Paris you experience in the day to day is as beautiful and full of art, tiny cafes, and breathtaking sights as you believe but also, incredibly diverse in a way entertainment never truly captures, something Diallo truly wanted to capture.
“Paris is the most visited city in the world. So, we welcome the world every year.” And the world has expectations, and that image, the one Paris projects to the world, well, that image sells. Diallo understands that, but she also believes that “you could sell Paris with modernity,” make Paris into a different brand that is still “sexy and relevant.” And do that while giving Black people and other minorities a chance to be part of the image of a city that is as much theirs as anyone else’s.
Then, there’s the layer of sexism that accompanies the idea of the Parisian woman, something Diallo is also very aware of. “The image of the Parisian woman is very sexist,” she was very clear on, calling it also oppressive. “So, you have to deal with all its aspects and how it really put women into boxes that never fit. And at the same time, being a POC, I get the ‘go back to your country’ comments all the time, so you feel like you don’t have the right to complain or to criticize, because as a POC, you should be grateful.”
For Diallo, this comes with the added burden that her visibility has led some to question why she still isn’t satisfied. But the filmmaker understands it isn’t about her.
All of this is the genesis for the documentary. “When I had the opportunity to make a documentary with French television, the first thing that came into my mind was trying to deconstruct the image of the Parisian woman. To me, it was obvious (because) there is an image that is very strong globally, but that doesn’t exist. And being born here I can tell that it’s something that has been created in order to sell the image of the city. And at the same time, that image is oppressing women,” because they feel forced to live up to the stereotype of what they should be, what the world at large expects them to be.
This is a very strong sentiment outside of France, but it’s present inside of France, as well. “Even to us, it takes time to just understand the dynamics of power, because we don’t speak that much about that. So even as a POC, you see things, but you don’t always find the words because you don’t have them in French.”
But Diallo is pushing the conversation, trying to find those words, for herself and for others. And hopefully, La Parisienne Démystifiée can prove that there’s so much more to Paris, and to the people than inhabit it, than Emily in Paris could ever show.
La Parisienne Démystifiée will premiere June 27th on TV5 Monde.