Plenty of Netflix content pushes boundaries, which is part of what makes it so compelling. From documentaries about sensitive topics to deep explorations of cultural norms, the behemoth media company is willing to go there. And they do.
But did they go too far this time? Some critics are saying yes. After a preview dropped for the French movie Cuties, people flocked to social media to voice their disgust at the premise and the promo photos.
They’re claiming this “coming of age” film featuring tween girls twerking is promoting pedophilia and normalizing sexually expressive behavior in children.
‘Cuties’ explores the challenges of growing up
The foreign language film Cuties, (Mignonnes in French) is intentionally contentious. The story revolves around an 11-year-old Sengalese girl named Amy (Fathia Youssouf) living in a poor Paris neighborhood. After being enthralled by her rebellious neighbor Angelica’s (Médina El Aidi-Azouni) dancing skills, Amy joins a dance group called Cuties.
The tweens dance suggestively in skimpy outfits, much to the horror of Amy’s very traditional, conservative mother. Cuties was originally released at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and received critical acclaim. It has an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Is ‘Cuties’ a social commentary, or something more sinister?
Defenders of Cuties say it might be exploring the downfalls of giving in to peer pressure and following the crowd, especially during a child’s impressionable youth. But that’s not enough to quell the voices decrying the premise of the film and promo photos.
“Netflix has a movie called Cuties about 11-year-olds in a twerking dance group. Some of the reviews claim it’s a ‘commentary’ on the sexualization of children but this is the poster. And keep in mind that the lead actress is actually 11 years old. In the film and real life,” conservative commentator Matt Walsh wrote.
The outrage is so strong that someone started a change.org petition to have the film removed from Netflix. “This movie/show is disgusting as it sexualizes an ELEVEN-year-old for the viewing pleasure of pedophiles and also negatively influences our children!” the petitioner wrote. “There is no need for this kind of content in that age group, especially when sex trafficking and pedophilia are so rampant!”
The petition has over 20,000 signatures so far.
What ‘Cuties’ creator Maïmouna Doucouré said about it
Despite the backlash, French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré is proud of her project. She discussed her inspiration with Cineuropa.
The day I saw, at a neighborhood party, a group of young girls aged around 11 years old, going up on stage and dancing in a very sensual way while wearing very revealing clothes. I was rather shocked and I wondered if they were aware of the image of sexual availability that they were projecting. In the audience, there were also more traditional mothers, some of them wearing veils: it was a real culture shock. I was stunned and I thought back to my own childhood, because I’ve often asked myself questions about my own femininity, about evolving between two cultures, about my Senegalese culture which comes from my parents and my western culture.
The director wanted to tell the story in a modern way. She came up with Cuties based on real life experiences.
But I needed the 2020 version of that youth, so for a year and a half, I stopped groups of young girls in the street, sometimes in schools or when organizations opened their doors to me. I recorded them or filmed them when I had their parents’ authorization, and I gathered their stories to find out where they situated themselves as children, as girls, as future women; how they placed themselves in society with their girlfriends, their families, at school, with social networks. All these stories fed into the writing of Cuties.”
Assuming the change.org petition is unsuccessful, Cuties begins streaming on Netflix Sept. 9.