Recently, Netflix has come under fire with its release of a French foreign film, “Cuties”. Twitter is in an uproar with people calling for Netflix’s cancellation, claiming that the film promotes paedophilia and sexualises young children.
The controversy has even drawn the attention of the US Justice Department. That being said, some have come to the defence of “Cuties”. Its most high-profile defender being “Thor: Ragnarok” actress Tessa Thompson. Arguing that the film isn’t promoting the sexualisation of children, rather it is critiquing it. Needless to say, there are some strong opinions on both sides of the aisle.
We took the time to watch “Cuties” to better understand the controversy behind the film and let’s just say, it’s a lot more complicated than a simple black-or-white answer. It’s time to ask the hard question: Does Maïmouna Doucouré’s “Cuties” encourage the sexualisation of young children? Before moving forward, do note that there will be spoilers ahead.
The Message Of The Movie
Before coming to a consensus, we think it’s important that we give a listening ear to the film’s director and creator, Maïmouna Doucouré. Contrary to online opinions, the upcoming director was in fact trying to warn the world about the dangers and ills of sexualising children. In an interview with “TIME”, she even goes on to state that the film’s purpose is to “show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible“. Right, so it’s clear that the authorial intent of the film is clearly against the hyper sexualisation of children. Let’s examine the film’s plot to gain deeper insight.
The film follows the story of Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in a poor neighbourhood in France. She finds her restrictive home life and the conservative Islamic values imposed on her suffocating. The situation is further exacerbated when she finds out that her father has essentially abandoned her mother for a second wife. She is now thoroughly disillusioned with the gender role placed on her by her Senegalese roots.
Later on in the film, she meets Angelica. A rebellious little girl looking for attention and online fame through twerking. The two form a friendship and Amy soon joins Angelica’s dance group called the Cuties. Together, Amy and her new friends get up to all sorts of crazy antics and mischief. Through Amy’s help, the team makes it into the finals for a dancing competition. Along the way, Amy begins to use her sexuality in destructive ways. When her adult cousin catches her stealing his phone, she attempts to seduce him by pulling down her pants.
On the day of the competition, Amy finally realises the pressure to maintain her hyper sexualised image is as oppressive as the religious dogma placed on her. By the end of the film, she rejects the false binary placed before her. She doesn’t have to conform the mould of a submissive wife-to-be or to internet trends to fit in. The final scene has her going outside to play jump rope with some other kids. At last, she embraces her innocence as a child. She has found herself.
In terms of plot and message, “Cuties” obviously isn’t trying to push for some ridiculous liberal agenda on how children need sexual liberation. In fact, the film goes to great lengths to show how this culture wears heavy on the psyche of young kids. How it degrades them and opens them up to exploitation and abuse. It’s a powerful sentiment that many of the film’s moral critics would agree with.
Which begs another question: How could this miscommunication between the film’s intent and most of the viewers’ reading of the “Cuties” have happened? It’s an anti-child sexualisation film being accused of paedophilia! We believe the answer lies in the film’s visuals.
The Camera Contradicts
One thing to note is that the film does not shy away from its vivid portrayal of the sexualisation of kids. It’s a given seeing that the film is touching on the subject. To be fair, it can be a hard issue to broach and the film was simply trying to depict the phenomenon to the best of its abilities.
It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to unsettle us and wake us up to the inappropriate exposure of children to sexual themes. All that would have been fine except for one thing…the film itself at times indulges in this exploitation.
If the provocative dance moves and scantily clad dressed 11-year-olds were used only with the purpose of furthering the plot, it probably wouldn’t have been such a big issue. The problem is, there are whole scenes deliberately sexualising these girls. Not in a critical or serious fashion, mind you. Rather, in a way that almost romanticises it.
There’s even a 2-minute long dance sequence that appears out of nowhere. It gets even more disturbing when the camera begins to trace and follow the girls’ bodies as they randomly dance to a pop song playing in the background.
This bubbly fun scene, with the camera zooming in on the girls’ breasts, torso and butts, is in direct opposition to the film’s message. Furthermore, it serves no purpose whatsoever. It comes off as completely tone-deaf. Perhaps, Doucouré intended the scene to be absurd. Juxtaposing the gravity of the situation with the levity in which society views these issues. In any case, we can definitely see why some people take umbrage with “Cuties”.
Long story short, we don’t think Maïmouna Doucouré’s “Cuties” promotes paedophilia or the sexualisation of children. Honestly, we support the filmmaker’s overall message of children simply being children. However, we can’t help but feel that a few of the film’s creative decisions does clash with its themes at times. It certainly didn’t help that Netflix’s original marketing material completely misrepresented the film’s premise. This is in stark contrast to the film’s original poster. Which is far more tasteful in its depiction. In our humble opinion, “Cuties” is a flawed film with a positive message. One that could have better connoted with greater restraint.
So what do you think? Do you think the controversy behind “Cuties is warranted? Or are people simply being moral alarmists? In any case, be sure to let us know in the comments down below!