Reflecting on “Emily in Paris”

I’m sure if you are at all interested in popular culture, you will be aware of Emily in Paris’ immense popularity. It’s all anyone was talking about in 2020, and was almost instantly renewed for season 2, which began filming this week. Many commentators have expressed their qualms with the program. Virtually everything and anything has been said about this; how it’s SO offensive that she doesn’t speak French, or that the styling is incoherent with the plot, or that it’s “cringe”. Whilst this may all be true, these are not particularly profound or interesting observations. What is interesting, is that there has been little discussion regarding what I consider to be the biggest, and most serious problem with Emily in Paris; a fetishisation of a white Paris and the erasure of its multicultural facets.

Surprisingly, the only other commentary I encountered that highlighted this point was written by Deborah Copaken, the main writer of the program itself. Put succinctly, Copaken says Emily in Paris is “a show about… Paris scrubbed free of its vibrant African and Muslim communities”. The real problem with Emily in Paris is not that it is a bad program. It is also not that it is reductive of French culture in the way that so many commentators seem to be concerned with. The real problem with Emily in Paris is that its success can be largely attributed to the fetishisation of a white-washed Paris.

As philosophers have pointed out for decades now, film, due to it being a realistic medium, has the ability to convince us of another world, even if for a few minutes. Indeed, Paris is often the most disappointing city for first-time visitors who had seen it in films. The disparity between reality and what is represented on film is so severe, there is even a syndrome catered to this specific affliction. We can be convinced so easily of an alternative reality when we see it in film, that we start to believe that it is a true representation of the world. Given this, the timing of that Emily in Paris could not be more fortuitous. A program like this in the middle of a global pandemic not only fulfilled our desire to escape a disappointing, frightening, and depressing reality, but gave us a way to travel, when it was otherwise impossible.

The problem is, the escape that Emily in Paris gave us was an omission of the diversity that characterizes Paris and makes it such an exciting city. By presenting us with the Instagram-perfect Paris, we are, as the audience, presented with a denial of the elements that make Paris a complex and rich city. Disturbingly, its incredible popularity shows us that the white-washing Emily in Paris gave us is a part of a fantasy for so many people.

Isabella Pocock

Isabella is studying for an MA in Philosophy and is a classically trained pianist, which she still practices on the side. She currently lives in London but is from Sydney, Australia.