The Small Things Matter Too: an interview with Zo Fan, writer/director of short film We Look the Same

What inspired you to create this film? Was there a moment that led to you writing the script, or was it multiple factors?

Moving to Paris from Singapore in 2016, whenever I was out on the streets, there would be random guys calling out to me while passing by, “Ni hao!” “Konnichiwa!” That quite frankly unnerved me completely. Initially, it would be so unsettling that it could turn one joyful, sunny afternoon into a churning, dark one, because of this intense rage, repulsion and the freezing inability to shout back for the fear of being physically aggressed. That made me as mad as myself as I was mad at them. 

In a world where people are finally educated enough to realize that cat-calling is not remotely funny, and even further away from flattering, how could there still be people doing this? To top it off, I remembered how there were guys who were my friends, people I respected, telling me how “these were guys just trying to be funny”. Then as I got to know more people, I realized there was a group that would have had to bear with this and so much more for their whole entire lives: the descendants of immigrants. For example, a Chinese girl born and bred in France, which means she is essentially French-Chinese, equal parts French and equal parts Chinese. However, just because of her facial features, she would always be treated as an immigrant in her own country. 

“We Look the Same” was then created, a film that is made for all the people in the world who supposedly ‘do not look’ like the citizens of the countries they identify with. 

The poster for We Look the Same art by Shauna Goh

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced, either while writing or filming?

Here’s a secret story – if you watch the film and you realize that our lead character has a certain physical affliction, it was not in the script until the actual shooting day. So it was three hours after call time, and our lead actress was MIA. I was frantically calling my other backup actresses (one was overseas, one was not picking up) and maintaining this deep calm face in front of my crew so they could continue to set up and not realize anything amiss. My 1st Assistant Director finally received news that she apparently fell down the stairs, and so [she] was in the hospital till then. Thank God, she ended up being able to come to set, just *ahem* extra equipped. So I rewrote the script, on the spot, to incorporate the new elements and had an emergency meeting with Sadesh Nambiar, my cinematographer. We restructured every single shot in the film that involved her bending down (because she was supposed to be arranging books all the time) and voila!

Why did you choose to partner with Asian creatives while promoting your film?

Fascinatingly, while I am answering this question, I realize that while we consciously opened the submissions to all creatives, all the artists that we have come across so far, whose past works contained related topics, have Asian roots. I hope that one day we would live in a world where non-Asians can speak and create about Asian issues as well, just like how once the film industry got 

A comic created by Hanna Lee, in collaboration with the film

What is the message you hope to send with your film?

That if we all care about the people around us a little more, the world would be a much better place. Because if you cared about the other person you’re talking to, then you would make sure you know what things can be better phrased, what words might make them feel uncomfortable. 

Why do you think that message is important right now?

It has always been important, and I think it will continue to be important because no one out there would think themselves racist, no one would think themselves a bad person, because we have internal justifications for the things that we do. It’s only when we are able to step out of ourselves and become more mindful of how we are treating people around us, can this world get better.

I think we have all seen very different sides of the world in the past few months with the global health crisis, and if it’s the side of the world where communities choose to put aside differences and come together to support each other that we like, then we all have a responsibility to be as inclusive as possible no matter now or in the future.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What role did language (French and Mandarin and English(captions)) play in telling your story?

It highlights the different backgrounds that we are all raised in. Language is so powerful because it opens doors. It allows communication, which brings understanding. What fascinates me is how much we can tell from someone’s language, be it from their accents, choice of words, or even the number of languages they know. There is nothing better than language to give us hints of a person’s past, but also nothing more dangerous than language because it can also be as misleading. 

It divides as much as it unites. So, moral of the story, never assume!

In the beginning of the film, Amelie’s boss keeps making micro-aggressions, but Amelie doesn’t seem to care. Why do you think that is?

Because even she herself was trying to convince herself her boss didn’t mean any harm. 

The underlying trickiness of micro-aggression stems often from an imbalance of power. The context of situations matters so much, that’s why sometimes it is so hard to call out micro-aggression. 

At freshman orientation, someone super friendly whom you just met could say “omg your name is so tricky!!” all while giving their best shot to learn your name, repeating it over and over until they get it right, and this could be ok. But picture your new teacher declaring “your name is so difficult” in front of the whole class, this could affect someone very much. It is also very personal, because what affects you could be different from what affects me.

There is a point that I debate with myself, whether the ones being micro-aggressed should take up the responsibility to stand up for themselves too, because that’s the only way the micro-aggressors know this is just plain un-funny. Consider the fact that many of the micro-aggressors really are nice people, and have no intentions to hurt anyone, they just don’t know that they are hurting us. And they will never know if we don’t say anything about it. 

What was your favorite part of making the film?

That this film is not finished in its makings yet!! 🙂 

The making of the film was merely the start of everything else because it is created to be a conversation starter.  It is only meaningful if this sparks many more discussions, reflections, debates, the want to know, the want to care. 

And it delights me to no end that I have so many creatives generously pitching in a part of their hearts to keep this going on, whichhhhh is probably a good segway to do a shout out for our creative open call: 

Calling all artists (no matter closeted or sensei-level) as long as you express yourself in one of the many languages of art, please continue the conversation with us at www.instagram.com/welookthesamefilm, where we are looking for creators to present their point of view on this topic with their unique voice. 

And finally, I might have seduced in you any little want to watch the film, say hi and join our Instagram page as we will release details for the online premiere of the film after the festival rounds conclude!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s