This month we were lucky enough to chat with emerging filmmaker Zo Fan, whose work is strongly influenced by personal experiences, racism, and a desire to raise awareness of Asian culture. With her professional portfolio spanning a range of local and foreign projects, such as with the Singapore National Youth Council, and her debut film being recognised at festivals internationally, Zo always places humans at the heart of her work, measuring her impact not by the number of views but by the number of hearts she touches. In our conversation, we discuss the drive behind her creative process, microaggressions, and her upcoming film, We Look The Same.
You’re a Singaporean filmmaker, based in Paris. What is your story and how did you end up in France?
New York City or Paris. It was one of the toughest choices I’ve had to make in my life, being accepted to both cities to continue my studies in filmmaking. Paris won because European culture was something I never had much interaction with at all, while the American culture was something we were familiar with in Singapore. Plus, who could resist? This is the city where cinema was born.
What has been your experience living as an Asian individual in a European city?
It has been so lovely! I have been very lucky to live with French families for a large part of my time so far, which really immersed me into the local way of living. The city of Paris has also been really kind to me, unlike its cold reputation of being racist and stuck up, because most people have just been the sweetest to me. And then there are the others, which I’ll talk about a bit later on.
How has being an abc (Asian Between Cultures) influenced your creative process and your career path thus far?
One thing for sure is my immense pride in Asian culture. Singaporeans grow up in a huge melting pot of cultures, and our accessibility to the rest of Asia really has kept Asian culture close to my heart and very present in my life. It’s tricky being in the creative field while surrounded by so many occidental talents but still keenly aware that not enough of us Asians are present in the game, even though of course things are getting better now. For example, even when I’m trying to go online looking for colour references for photo editing, I’m always struck by how little range there are available for Asian and darker skin tones. It’s not like there are less Asian photographers than occidental photographers, but perhaps that its still more of the occidentals creating and leading the way, while Asians are just following and not yet taking enough lead to create new things. My greatest wish is really for us Asians to be so proud of our own culture and to know about it so well that we would be able to share it with the world.
Tell us about your film that you’re working on, We Look The Same. What inspired you to create it and why?
“Go back to fucking China!” a guy once yelled at me on the streets of the Marais district, when I was out with my friends from Singapore. We were shocked momentarily and riled with anger, but funny enough, this blatant act of racism is not really what stuck with me but rather the following: “Konnichiwa!” “Ni hao!” This is what is called out at me when I walk on the streets of Paris. Not necessarily everyday (since with my working schedule I am usually holed up behind my computer), but often enough that it usually makes a very nice day take a low dip for a few moments. This was what inspired me to make a short film that’s light and entertaining of it’s own right, featuring in Paris, a Chinese tourist, a second generation Chinese bookstore assistant born in France, a kind girl who just wants to help out the whole world (be it whether it’s with or against the rules), and a French boss so unbending with her rules she wouldn’t allow her private toilet be used by anybody else. In order to present the microaggressions that happen in our daily lives. As I did the research for the film, it was also insane how some people say there’s no racism against Asians in France, because I find that most racism happens in the form of microaggressions.
Can you elaborate on what a ‘microaggression’ is?
Think about paper cut. A passing remark so small that it usually seems like just a joke, or just a casual comment that would make you think, “Did he/she just say that or did I overthink that?” Usually said by someone who has no ill intentions at all, but yet at the same time can really hurt like a bitch.
For example: when an Asian-American is asked ‘Where are you really from?’. It could also sound like something positive - “All Asians are so smart!” A true story shared with me by a second-generation French-born Chinese: she used to be really bad at mathematics, and there was one exam she really put her 120% into studying for it, and she aced it. Then, her table partner turned around and told her, “Anyway, you Asians are so smart!” With that, her efforts to study was totally erased. But what’s really tricky about it is that it really is dependent on the context and the relationship between the people in the conversation, so it’s not really so easily ‘fixable’. By the way, microaggressions can exist in every context from genders to age, it’s just that I chose to focus on Asian microaggressions this time.
What is the main takeaway that you want viewers to gain from your film?
That microaggressions exist throughout our lives, and we are both as likely to be the perpetrators or the victims. Just because nobody says anything about it doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.
What are some practical tips you have for people to respectfully address people of Asian descent, to prevent the instances of ‘microaggressions’?
It all boils down to taking that much more care on how others will perceive the words that you say, even if it seems like words you have been saying all along. Instead of saying “[Are you] Chinese? [Are you] Korean?” Or even “Where are you from?” because they might be the second generation immigrants who are exactly from the same land as you, ask “What are your origins?”.
But really what matters is you care, so if you really do find yourself saying microaggressive things (quite frankly even I started to realise how much I am guilty of in everyday life after making the film), all that is needed is just some form of apology to the other person, and things will be nice.
How can we as readers of THE ABC ISSUE help support you and contribute to the success of your film?
I’m crowdfunding for the completion of my short film right now, and hopefully will be able to push it out to a feature film in the future because I believe the topic of ‘Asian Girls’ is as wide as it is unexplored. And we are also collecting stories of microaggressions because it is time for people to recognise that this is no small matter, so please send your stories to us in exchange for an illustration of you to accompany the story by one of the talented creatives supporting the film!
Read about what happens between a Chinese tourist who desperately needs to use the toilet in Paris, and a French born Chinese vintage bookstore assistant in the film here.
About the contributor
Zo Fan is a freelance filmmaker and photographer from Singapore of Chinese origins, now currently based in Paris. She creates her works with the goals of bringing something new to every genre of work she works on, with the ultimate task of transporting feelings between people.
To see more of her work, click here.
Check out her Instagram handle, here.