If you were on Twitter yesterday, or today for that matter, you may have noticed the hashtag #CancelNetflix doing the rounds.
Type it into the search bar and you’ll find countless tweets calling the network out for screening the film Cuties, or Mignonnes (the original French title), saying that it blatantly sexualises young girls.
Some background on the film before we continue.
The movie follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who joins a “free-spirited dance clique” (called “the Cuties”) to rebel against her conservative home life.
It premiered in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival where writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré won the world cinema dramatic directing award.
The film was her directorial debut. She researched it by meeting with hundreds of pre-teens to understand how they thought about their femininity in today’s society.
Per Variety, she says:
“Our girls see that the more a woman is sexualized on social media, the more she’s successful,” she says in “Why I Made Cuties.” “And yeah, it’s dangerous.”
Critics loved the film, with The Telegraph calling it “a slice of social realism” and a “powder-keg provocation in an age so terrified of child sexuality”, while the Los Angeles Times marked it as an “an empathetic and analytical movie”.
Make sure the subtitles are on when you watch the trailer:
Let’s take a deep dive into the social media outrage. It started with a poster showing the girls in a range of provocative poses. Then, there was the final scene in the film which you can watch here.
Obvious spoiler alert:
Netflix is comfortable with this. Plenty of people will defend it. This is where our culture is at. pic.twitter.com/UlqEmXALmd
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) September 10, 2020
The US-based advocacy group Parents Television Council describes it as a film that sexualises children, standing by their statement after actually watching it.
“Although the film tackles an important topic — one that under different circumstances we might even applaud — it’s the way the film goes about it that’s problematic. This film could have been a powerful rebuke of popular culture that sexualizes children and robs them of their innocence.”
A Change.org petition has been launched calling on Netflix customers to cancel their subscriptions over Cuties and other content on the streaming service “that exploits children and creates a disturbing vibe”. At the time of writing, it had in excess of 600 000 signatures.
Meanwhile, Netflix has issued a statement defending the film as social commentary as per the director’s statements about it:
Amy, the film’s protagonist, is “navigating between two models of femininity,” Doucouré says — one represented by her Muslim mother’s traditional beliefs, and the other by the Cuties dance squad.
Amy believes she can “find her freedom through that group of dancers and their hyper-sexualization. But is that really true freedom? Especially when you’re a kid? Of course not.” Doucouré, born and raised in Paris in a Senegalese family, adds, “I put my heart into this film because this is my story.”
The clip above is hard to watch, and I would imagine the rest of the film is even tougher to get through.
Perhaps one of the issues here is that this film isn’t suited for a streaming platform like Netflix. It’s an art film, which stood out at the Sundance Festival where it was placed in a context that allowed the directer the scope to explain the film, its origins, and her vision.
At the same time, those scenes had to be acted out by children, which is in and of itself extremely disturbing.
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