Asian Representation in France

Trends / Realness
Sandra Michalska
Sep 2, 2022
The interest in inclusive and authentic visuals in France is on the rise. Getty Images customers’ searches for ‘diversity’ (+135%) and ‘inclusion’ (+137%) have been steadily increasing, without  any sign of slowing down. While in the United States, Asian Americans have been top of  mind1, our search data shows that our French customers don't follow suit. Today, France is home to one of the most significant Asian communities in Europe, many of whom arrived from China and the countries that once made up the former French territory of Indochina: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam2. While the French Southeast Asian community includes many generations, it's still overlooked in media and advertising. When they do appear, they are subject to outdated and limiting clichés.

Discreet, hard‑working, docile, integrated. The ‘model minority' trope is reinforcing limiting stereotypes and casual discrimination3. Furthermore, like in many other regions in the world, the anti‑Asian narrative worsened during the pandemic. In January 2020, the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus4 ("I am not a virus") appeared on social networks to denounce the attacks on people of Asian origins. A dangerous and damaging phenomenon, sociologists have observed a new rise of sinophobia5 – the projection of fear toward China as a global economic power, which extends to the whole Asian community in France6. In fact, this oversimplification might have roots in casual language in which “Chinese” is used to describe all people of Asian ethnicity, oversimplifying a great diversity of backgrounds, cultures, religions, and languages6. So, even today, the post‑colonial and geopolitical views on Asia influence visual patterns and stereotypes seen in popular visuals. Their representation is often flattened, limited to a few specific roles and one, generic culture. 
Asian people are ten times more likely to be seen with a computer or smartphone than with a family member or a friend.
Competent, but not a leader
In popular visuals at Getty Images, the Asian community in France is most likely to be seen at work, similar to the USA, Asia and Germany7. Our latest VisualGPS research shows that they are six times more likely to be shown in business scenarios than in leisure activities or with family. When shown at work, the docility myth is flattening Asian representation. Often relegated to minor roles: a colleague or a team player in a multinational company, an Asian person is rarely seen as a leader. Furthermore, this limiting label is seen on a smaller scale, too. Visual representation of Asian small business owners is rare. This lack of visibility is even more damaging given the context: over the last two years, Chinese shops and businesses in Paris have been hit hard by phobias, boycotts and fear of the virus8. To expand Asian French narratives, it's crucial to show them in various roles, such as business owners, in leadership roles, education, sport, travel or lifestyle.
Connected, but solitary
Being shown at work is not the only limiting cliché seen in popular visuals for France. While work scenarios tend to focus on group situations, lifestyle scenarios show Asian people alone – or in the company of technology. In fact, Asian people are ten times more likely to be seen with a computer or smartphone than with a family member or a friend. This reveals a fundamental problem of representation influenced by economy and geopolitics, in which the country of origin and its economy is more important than a person and their values. Even lifestyle and home scenarios fall into the "always on" trope. Smart meditation, listening to music or counting calories with smartphone apps can empower the healthy lifestyles of Asian people.
But what about people's connections and togetherness, increasingly popular in visual storytelling in France? Togetherness, even though highly searched by French brands in a post‑pandemic context, doesn't include the Asian community: less than 1 in 10 visuals show an Asian person in a romantic relationship or as a parent. For better representation, it's important to consider visuals showing an expansive view of relationships and real‑life connections between family, partners and friends – not only colleagues and devices. 
Expanding visual narratives
If the French‑Asian community is linked to commonly known clichés, its visual representation is a missed opportunity for more depth and inclusive storytelling, too. Nearly 8 in 10 French people expect companies they buy from to celebrate diversity of all kinds, yet brands are falling short. Only 18% of French consumers say communications from brands they are buying from show a lot of diversity. Popular visuals focus on young, cis‑gender adults without disabilities. But the lack of intersectionality is not all, as cultural nuances are missing, too. Most of the visuals feature people of Thai and Chinese origins, however, none of them focus on the culture, celebrations, food or styling that make up their lives. For example, Chinese New Year is widely celebrated in Paris and by many local brands, yet the visual representation is lacking cultural nuances, beyond red‑yellow backgrounds with greetings. Asian people are not linked to Asian, French or French‑Asian culture, and their representation is limited to generic visuals in multinational corporate offices.

However, the wind of change is coming, and the cultural milieu is pushing for change. During the Cannes Film Festival last year, many cinema personalities sung a tribune for better visibility and representation of Asians in French cinema9. The way we perceive the world is influenced by the stories seen in advertising, so presenting authentic Asian stories can help brands not only create deeper engagement with the audience, but also to dismantle outdated stereotypes, paving the way for better representation.
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