When Emily in Paris premiered on Netflix in 2020, audiences excitedly tapped into plucky protagonist Emily Cooper’s (Lily Collins) quarter-life crisis as she traipsed across the City of Lights in search of love and adventure. However, not everyone was feeling the show’s depiction of Paris because it was totally devoid of one very specific, one very important thing: Black women. If you let the Netflix series and French media in general tell it, there just aren’t any Black women in Paris. Fortunately, we know that that’s simply untrue, and Bravo wants in on the discourse. Perhaps sensing some of the backlash towards Emily in Paris’ very white exploration of the city, Bravo made sure not to make the same mistake with its new reality show Real Girlfriends in Paris, which includes the unique perspective of two Black women.
Real Girlfriends in Paris follows a group of young American women as they attempt to adjust to the unique culture and norms of Paris. Living abroad isn’t easy, even for those in the cast who have been travelling to and from France for years, but having a community away from home makes the assimilation process that much easier. From the best places to shop to the best neighbourhoods to meet men to the right kind of cheese to pair with wine, the women learn the ins and outs of their new city under the patient mentorship of longtime Paris resident Anya Firestone (think Emily in five years). For Adja Toure, a southerner who’s called Paris home for the past two years, the transition to her new city hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been totally worth it. With roots in Senegal and family scattered all over France, it was only a matter of time before she packed her bags for Paris, and the pandemic ended up being the perfect catalyst for the next step.
“I ended up getting to France at a time where I was mentally and emotionally ready, COVID was subsiding, and the borders were open,” Toure told Refinery29 Unbothered in a Zoom interview. “I just took my time with it because I didn't want to rush into something and have a horrible experience where I was essentially experiencing the same lockdown as I was already doing in New York City.”
Her co-star Kacey Margo had a similar trajectory. Growing up, Margo studied French culture intensively, to the surprise of her friends and family — “Why was I in the middle of southern California studying French instead of Spanish?” She recalls over Zoom with laughter — and was finally able to move to Paris as a government-sponsored educator teaching English in schools. But teaching is just her day job; Margo also babysits, tutors, and does pretty much anything else that comes her way.
The beauty of Paris, the reality stars tell me, is being able to have a fresh start and to finally do things their way, on their own terms. There’s a real freedom (and privilege) in getting a fresh slate, and that sense of liberty is compounded by the feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people. Forget Emily’s whitewashed, stuck-up, depiction of the city seen on TV — the cast says that in their experience, the real Paris is diverse and very inclusive for people of colour, particularly for Black women. Surprisingly, that inclusivity also extends to the complicated reality of dating as a Black woman. For many Black women, dating is an emotionally fraught experience due to the “preferences” (read: social conditioning) that have statistically landed us at the bottom of desirability rankings. But while travelling and living abroad, many Black women like Toure and Margo are experiencing the romance that once evaded them because finally, they’re the hot commodities. On the show, we see them successfully flirting and going on dates with men from various backgrounds, basking in the attention that was freely flowing their way. For Toure and Margo, Dating While Black & Abroad is a totally different ball game.
Obviously, France has its problems, but at the same time, it's less of a conscious effort on my part to have to be like, Okay, do I have to straighten my hair for this date? Do I have to worry about explaining cultural differences?”
“Normally, it's not even like I have to be worried about dating as a Black woman,” says Margo. “It's more like I have to be worried about dating as an American who also doesn't speak French that well. Obviously, France has its problems, but at the same time, it's less of a conscious effort on my part to have to be like, Okay, do I have to straighten my hair for this date? Do I have to worry about explaining cultural differences?”
“I think that in France, people are more alert when it comes to dating Black women because there's a steadier and more direct flow of immigration with people coming from different parts of Africa,” adds Toure, the cast’s resident hot girl. “There's more of an understanding of different backgrounds and heritages, whereas in parts of the US, that understanding can be so binary — Black, white or something else.”
For all their praise of Paris (and they had a lot of good things to say), Toure and Kacey have to keep it real: the city is a beautiful, wonderful place, but it does have its downsides. Beyond its exorbitant cost — Paris is the second most expensive city in the world — navigating the streets as an expat who is also a Black woman doesn’t make for the easiest, most seamless experience. With every delightful moment comes the unfortunate microaggression, a fate that might be impossible to escape no matter where they go because misogyny, the intersection of racism and sexism, is a global phenomenon. Toure tells me that her specific struggle is related to the country’s notoriously systemic and socially accepted fatphobia, which hits differently as a thicker woman. While she might be considered average-sized in the States, living in her body in Paris has created more issues than she anticipated.
“I have a very different body type than the average French woman, and the mental gymnastics to remind myself that I'm not ugly or whatever here is one of the biggest challenges for me,” Toure shares. “That mentality is ingrained in me because of my upbringing, and I can try and combat it all I want, but when you try on 50 different outfits at a boutique, and not a single one will close over your tatas, it gets really, really, heartbreaking. It's just very discouraging as a whole.”
Being a Black expat in France also means consistently coming up against people who are ignorant about Black culture. Paris might be the most multicultural city in Europe, but the amount of obtuse questions and conversations that Toure and Kacey have been subjected to over the years proves that living amongst Black people isn’t the same as understanding Black people. Diverse demographic or not, anti-Blackness is still a thing that they have to contend with everywhere they go.
“When I first got here, I felt a lot of pressure to be cool and fun and to represent Americans well — to represent Black people well,” Margo chimes in. “It's important for you to be a good role model for the race, for the gender, for the race and the gender. It's hard to be the first anywhere, but to be the first and the only at any time? Stressful.”
“I'm constantly educating people,” Toure bemoans. “And I know I’m always going to have to say something because it seems that people are still fairly ignorant as to how to politely converse with black women sometimes. But that’s sort of a universal thing, I guess; despite being in a different continent with a different concept of Blackness, there's still going to be that carryover as to how people interact with me. It’s draining sometimes.”
Still, they assure me, their time in Paris has been life-changing, and being able to share it with each other (“It's so refreshing to not be the only Black person in my friend group, in my class, in my building, you know?” says Margo, who grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood in California) and with their fellow co-stars has been essential to making the move a successful one. As self-proclaimed global citizens, their hope is that other Black women will watch the show and be encouraged to get out and see the world for themselves. Whether it’s to Mallorca or Accra, the world is our oyster. We just have to figure out how to crack it open.
“Because so much of our history was taken from us as Black people, it's our responsibility to create our own paths and figure out who we are on our own terms,” Margo says. “Be introspective and reflective of who you are, what you've been through, and what you want from life. And then follow that path, whether it takes you down the street or halfway across the world.”
Toure’s expert advice for a cross-continental move? Do your research. “Make sure you do your due diligence because it's super important,” she stresses. “Find out where you're going to stay, join expat groups on Facebook and Twitter or wherever — actually see what people are talking about and get their real opinions. Don't underestimate the power of social media. I’ve definitely made some girlfriends by just sliding into their DMs like, Hey, I want to grab a coffee. I would love to meet up and chat. Try to make a couple connections. That way, you have someone who can introduce you to other people so that It's less scary and also a lot safer.”
“As long as you have the willpower, the means, and the organisation skills, I think everyone can do what I did,” Toure concludes encouragingly. “There's always a way. Just do it!”
Catch new episodes of Real Girlfriends in Paris on Hayu in Australia.