Many will argue that the purpose of art is to act as a mirror to society, and spark discomfort and conversations around the real world flaws it depicts. However, Netflix’s French coming-of-age film “Cuties” has caused a bigger disruption than anybody anticipated.
“Cuties” first instigated controversy with promotional material portraying 11-year-old girls in suggestive poses but the outrage has sky rocketed since its release, with U.S. congressmen urging for Netflix to remove the film and calling on authorities to investigate whether the streaming service or filmmakers violated federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography. Furthermore, many have taken to social media to express their disappointment, ultimately denouncing both the film and platform with a #CancelNetflix hashtag.
The film presents Fathia Youssouf as a Senegalese immigrant named Amy who lives with her mom and younger brothers in a lower-class neighborhood in Paris. Her family is going through its own share of hardships and Amy finds an escape from that when she watches another young girl named Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni) dancing freely in her apartment building’s laundry room.
As the film progresses, Angelica turns out to be one of Amy’s classmates and is the leader of an amateur dance crew hoping to win a local dance competition. The girls wear inappropriately short skirts and tight shirts and watch videos of grown-ups twerking to get their latest moves. Coming from a conservative household, Amy is enamored of this sense of freedom and joins them, wearing one of her kid brother’s shirts as a crop top.
A series of rebellious moves leads Amy down a rabbit hole of increasingly bad decisions and increasingly suggestive dance moves, so much so that by the time they get to the Big Dance Off, the entire audience members is turned off by the whole thing.
By this point, viewers have also grown weary of “Cuties.” Director Maïmouna Doucouré cultivates a great plot for Amy – and leaves her in a better place by the end – but also tackles the hypersexualization of little girls head-on by showing close-ups of Amy and her friends as they record their bumping and grinding. It is absolutely cringe-worthy, and it will definitely bother you, but that is the point Doucouré is making. Through her artistic medium, she’s imploring parents and families to pay close attention to their kids and what they’re watching and taking in as influences at such an impressionable age.
However, despite the films moral message, a campaign waged against Netflix over “Cuties” which produced a surge in U.S. subscription cancellations over the weekend, according to research company YipitData. After the 96-minute film premiered online Sept. 9, the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” began trending on Twitter in the U.S. and a Change.org petition was set up, calling on Netflix customers to cancel their subscriptions. The petition has so far garnered more than 647,000 signatures. It has also drawn condemnation from various political figures. By Saturday, Sept. 12, Netflix’s cancellation rate in the U.S. jumped to nearly eight times higher than the average daily levels recorded in August 2020 — reaching a multiyear high, says Variety.
Doucouré, speaking Monday on a panel hosted by French cinema promotional org UniFrance, said that her film shows why it is necessary to create solutions addressing the “hyper-sexualization of children” that occurs via social media across the globe.
“I thought the film would be accepted. It played to Sundance and was watched by American people there; I met the public there and they really saw that the film is about a universal issue,” said Doucouré. “It’s not about French society — the hyper-sexualization of children happens through social media and social media is everywhere. People [at Sundance] agreed with that.”
“We need to protect our children. What I want to is to open people’s eyes on this issue and try to fix it,” said the filmmaker, adding that it’s “important and necessary to create a debate and find solutions as filmmakers, politicians, and within the educational system.”
“Cuties” is still available for streaming on Netflix. There, you may assess the film and draw your own conclusions. However, one thing remain true, women and girls bodies are objectified, sexualized, and politicized every day around the globe and it is time we as a society had a real conversation about it.