Netflix is under fire as the next cancel culture subject, Cuties, lands in the media spotlight.
Netflix has rarely received negative attention compared to its many praises for its ground-breaking cinematic content. However, the film Cuties tipped the scale by showcasing risqué footage, heavily suggestive scenes, and highly sexual dancing. Did I mention the main characters in this ‘coming of age’ film are all eleven-years-old?
The French film that debuted in the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, and launched internationally on Netflix this September, first garnered admiration winning the Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Best Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, alongside two other prizes. The backlash swiftly followed suit shortly after.
Maïmouna Doucouré, the director of Cuties and winner of more than sixty awards worldwide, is now experiencing extreme forms of backlash such as death threats, alongside heavy criticism of the film and its direction. The film is described as a coming-of-age journey for eleven-year-old Amynata who’s conflicted with her highly, Senegalese-Muslim religious family and culture. She then grows intrigued by the laissez-faire lifestyle of a group of girls who are part of a tantalizing dance group. The film touches upon Amy’s discovery of herself and her sexuality as she disobeys her family and learns the art style of dance. It reads beautifully, but unfortunately, the screen paints an image that many cringe and gasp at and is seen as hyper-sexualizing young women.
From viewing the film, I was puzzled in my thoughts on the director’s angle. Doucouré claims as a response to the backlash in an interview with Zora Medium that she’s “eager to see people’s’ reaction when they realize that we’re both on the same side of this fight against young children’s hyper-sexualization.”
Doucouré’s declaration to dismantle the overly-sexualizaction of children, however, is not translated perfectly into the film.
Part of the problem for viewers includes a scene of Amy taping a boy peeing in the men’s bathroom, a young girl putting a used condom to her mouth and blowing it like a balloon, and other girls lying about their age to a group of older boys, stating that they were fourteen instead of eleven. There are an assortment of more inappropriate and obviously-indicative scenes throughout the film that leaves viewers unsettled.
Doucouré’s artistic style may lead her to perceive such scenes as adolescent development; a girl finding herself. But these scenes, mixed in with about the rest of the film which is composed of young girls twerking while the cameramen zooms in on their butts, appear to be the exact hypersexualized imagery Maïmouna Doucouré claims to be fighting so righteously against. And the film’s poster choice is just as incriminating.
Later pulled from Netflix, and replaced with a less titillating poster, Cuties was priorly introduced with an image of the kid dance clique including Amynata in booty shorts and a crop top conveniently covering the chest area, leaving the midriff exposed. This poster was rectified from the final dance scene, a dance riddled with sexy eye glances and gyrations.
In the light of “cancel culture” and perhaps a society that has become more cognizant of the mental and physical health of children, the American public responded harshly and overwhelmingly against the film.
This controversy also brought up past examples of hypersexualized children in films. I.e., the 1978 film Pretty Baby. In the film, a photographer named Mr. Bellocq meets a prostitute named Hattie, and her twelve-year-old daughter, Violet. Violet yearns for Mr.Bellocq's attention and they eventually fall into romantic and sexual love with one another. How much longer can the film industry make such content, without their being real life ramifications?
Another seventies film that attracted a lot of criticism like Cuties was 1976’s Taxi Driver, where twelve-year-old actress Jodi Foster also played a child prostitute named Iris.
The film industry acts as a casting couch for young actors; it’s a legal-work loophole to sex trafficking, in my opinion. It’s a problem that is ingrained in celebrity and Hollywood culture.
Weary parents are now creating hashtags like #SaveOurChildren and #ProtectOurChildren on Twitter and Instagram. The film Cuties has been mentioned under such hashtags as an example of the film industry’s hand in sexualizing children. Child sex trafficking is a crime that is tremendously difficult to apprehend, especially larger operations. However, the efforts haven’t ceased.
The director of Cuties, Doucouré, states her shock from the messages she receives online: “I received numerous attacks on my character.”
Some viewers shame her for attributing to the wrongful adultification of Black girls in the film.
In my opinion, Doucouré feeds on the misconception and misuse of Black girls. Black girls in Cuties are only as valuable as their sex appeal, and her ‘coming-of-age’ portrayal flew right over my head in the light of the little girl booty-shaking and gyrating. The film Cuties strengthens the already dangerous attention focused on young girls and I’m not a fan.
REPORTERS: Rachelle Barrette
The Voice, Gravity Magazine, 2020