You’ve probably seen headlines about a new movie just released on Netflix called Cuties. Uproar over the film is growing, and those in children’s ministry need to be aware of the controversy. Here’s an overview.
(Warning and note: This post contains graphic and upsetting content. Our editors have viewed the film in its entirety. We at childrensministry.com do not promote or recommend this film in any way; our goal is to keep you as a children’s minister informed of what’s happening in kid culture today. Our prayer is that you find the information useful as you approach your ministry.)
What It Is
Cuties is the 2020 directorial debut of French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré. The movie premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award. IndieWire’s annual list of rising women directors to know listed Doucouré following the win. The film released via Netflix in August and immediately created a firestorm amid accusations of being pro-pedophilia among other things. Since its release, it has consistently ranked in the top 10 in the U.S.
The film is rated TV-MA and is not viewable on Netflix profiles with maturity settings set to “kids;” however, it is widely available and prominent on profiles without maturity control settings in place. The film has not been marketed to preteens or teens, but given the young ages and prominence of its actresses, it will naturally be of interest to them and is ultimately easily accessible.
The film’s main character is 11-year-old Amy, a Senegalese immigrant girl who lives in a poor Paris neighborhood. Raised in a conservative and strict home, she becomes enamored with a girl’s dance crew featuring young, scantily clad girls who dance in a highly sexualized manner. Her mother finds the girls’ behavior upsetting. The dance crew activities directly contradict the family’s Senegalese Muslim traditions. By the end of the movie, Amy leaves the group, sheds her risqué clothing, and returns to a simpler and more innocent life. The film is described as a coming-of-age story where the main character grapples with her burgeoning femininity and sense of self in a world that sexualizes young girls.
Netflix first stirred controversy with the marketing materials related to the film that depicted pubescent girls in suggestive poses and dance costumes.
Netflix issued an apology following public outcry and an online petition that quickly garnered more than 35,000 signatures. A Netflix spokesperson stated: “We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”
The controversy has hardly ended there.
The girls’ performances in the movie include twerking (a sexually provocative movement that involves thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance), suckling their fingers suggestively, lying on the floor with hips and buttocks thrusting, and many other hypersexualized movements. All the actresses in the film are around age 13. The lead actress was 11 when hired to do the movie and is now 14.
The film also includes the girls watching pornography on a cell phone, a girl whose clothing is wet twerking on all fours, numerous camera zooms on the girls’ buttocks and midsections as they dance suggestively, the girls’ finding a used condom on the ground and playing with it, sharing inappropriate images online, theft, graphic discussions of sexual acts, fights among preteens, bullying, foul language, and other lewd instances.
Outrage over the film has largely taken the form of significant social media backlash. Petitions to #CancelNetflix have angry viewers canceling their subscriptions to the streaming giant. The film, director, and Netflix have been accused of pushing the hyper-sexualization of children and child pornography, and the director has received death threats.
Netflix and Doucouré say the anger is misplaced and that those criticizing the film haven’t watched it.
In a statement to Variety, a Netflix spokesperson said: “Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
In an interview with Indiewire, Doucouré said, “I realize that the people who have started this controversy haven’t yet seen the film…I’m hoping that these people will watch the movie now that it’s out. I’m eager to see their reaction when they realize that we’re both on the same side of this fight against young children’s hyper-sexualization.”
In one pivotal scene, the girls perform a suggestive dance in front of a crowd of adults. The adults shake their heads disapprovingly and express distaste at the girls’ overtly sexual moves. Doucouré says this scene reflects what she witnessed at a neighborhood gathering in Paris, when a group of girls began dancing onstage in a very sexually revealing way. That’s when she says she got the idea for the movie.
In the interview with Indiewire, she says: “I decided to do research to see if they were aware and conscious of what they were doing. I met over a hundred preteens who told me their stories…I wanted to know how they dealt with their self-image at a time when social media is so important, and they have access to so much information and so many images.”
The Public Response
The film’s release has spurred strong responses from numerous individuals and groups. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted: “@Netflix should explain to the public why it is distributing a film, ‘Cuties,’ that appears to sexually exploit children and endanger child welfare.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) tweeted: “‘Cuties’ sexualizes 11-year-old girls, and it’s disgusting and wrong. That’s why I’ve asked AG Barr to investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) tweeted: “@netflix child porn ‘Cuties’ will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade. 1 in 4 victims of trafficking are children. It happened to my friend’s 13-year-old daughter. Netflix, you are now complicit. #CancelNetflix” (sic).
At least one petition on change.org demanding the removal of the film has more than 600,000 signatures at press time. The Parents Television Council reviewed the film and said it is objectionable because of its overt sexualization of the child characters.
This story is developing, and we will update it as the issue continues to unfold.
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