Netflix should apologize and seek forgiveness from child actresses and rectify the harm done
Shame. The first and only emotion that Netflix, viewers, and anyone else who has ever heard of Cuties should experience in relation to this gross violation of human dignity. Shame that this film was created, shame that this violation of human dignity was watched, and shame that this violation of human dignity was praised.
Earlier this year, Netflix announced the release of their newest Netflix Originals film, Cuties, directed by Maimouna Doucoure. The original synopsis, as screenshotted by Twitter user Sister Outrider (@ClaireShrugged), a self-pronounced “Black Radical Feminist,” reads:
“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew [the Cuties]. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
This description was accompanied by a highly provocative movie poster depicting four eleven-year-old girls wearing extremely skimpy and tight “dance” clothing, posing in a sexually suggestive manner. After the outcry from across the political spectrum, including Sister Outrider, Netflix updated their pictures and synopsis: “Eleven-year- old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” Interestingly enough, the original Sundance poster was only slightly less provocative, showing the girls revelling in their new underwear purchases. Netflix took a problematic poster and somehow made it worse.
The fact that this poster change was cleared by Netflix executives should scare us. Here’s the statement they issued after the initial reaction to the film: “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.” Netflix’s moral sense has become deeply corrupted: The film critics in journalism are similarly flawed. Cuties achieves one of the highest-ever recorded gaps on the Rotten Tomatoes film review website between Tomatometer (62 selected film critics) and Audience Score (all 2,126 reviewers). 85% of the selected critics rate the film Certified Fresh for a total of 6.98/10 average rating, while only 14% of regular users rated the film 3.5 stars or higher with a total average user rating of 1.2. It is clear that common sense and good judgement reside more often in the sensibility of the common man than in the “educated” elite of the media industry.
Our culture is a highly sexualized culture, and nowhere is that more clear than the absolute domination of the porn industry on the minds, hearts, and bodies of so many people—especially young men and women. This includes the well-documented hypersexualization of teenagers and even preteens, as uncertain girls strive for attention, popularity, and community. Women now have to compete with highly idealized porn, which men can access without any effort. In order to achieve any hope of having a normal relationship, girls find themselves forced to violate their dignity through public hypersexualization on social media, because most young men only see them as objects of desire, and not as women with intrinsic worth.
The director of Cuties, Maimouna Doucoure, recognizes this problem when she claims that Islamic cultures are not the only ones that oppress women: “Isn’t the objectification of women’s bodies in Western Europe and the United States another kind of oppression?” In order to speak out against the objectifying hypersexualization of young women, Doucoure decided to direct a film which objectifies and hypersexualizes a number of innocent child actresses. For her efforts, the Sundance Film Festival awarded her the World Cinema Dramatic Award for Directing. This is the rich irony of the film, and ultimately its fatal flaw: in order to combat objectification, Doucoure objectifies.
I consulted the IMDB Parents Guide, which is somewhat libertine but generally trustworthy, to see what warnings the section on Sex & Nudity included. Suffice it to say, the material warned about is vile and disgusting. Doucoure’s camera should not be focusing on the crotch area of Fathia Youssouf (the child actress who plays Amy) if she wants to fight objectification. This, she seems to say, is how women should explore their femininity, and viewers should enjoy it. Not only is it harmful for the viewers who enjoy it (pedophiles), but the girls on the other side of the camera are also victims. In order to perform every single action that the film depicts, the actresses had to internalize, to some extent, this behavior. Suyin Haynes touches on the point quite well for Time when she writes, “It is this combination of childlike naivety and overt sexuality that sometimes makes for uneasy viewing, as viewers are forced to position their gaze on the bodies of Amy and the Cuties.” Uneasy viewing, you think? She thinks it’s uneasy because the film challenges preconceived notions of sexuality and is expansive, liberating, and progressive. She couldn’t be farther from the truth. In Hayne’s discomfort lies the recognition by her conscience that this film is deeply problematic in its violation of human dignity.
This film is rated TV-MA. The actresses wouldn’t have been allowed to watch it, yet they were allowed to create it. One commentator notes, “This, in my opinion—to put it bluntly—is a form of child sexual molestation…. Aside from filmmakers such as this woman destroying the innocence of young actors by her failure to hold to core principles that should govern all rational persons, they err in thinking their audience is stupid. Audiences know full well what the sexualization of children looks like… so we don’t need to see it acted out for us, nor do most people (pedophiles excepted) even WANT to see it.” Watching the trailer was bad enough. I can’t imagine sitting through that experience thirty times. The same commentator writes that Doucoure could have started “her film showing the lifetime deleterious effects that such sexualization has on children…” without spending 95% of the movie showing what leads to that point. In fact, viewers really ought to question the emphasis that the movie places on this exploration of sexual freedom. If it is really intended to show the harms of technology and objectification, why isn’t it far more tragic? Instead, Doucoure directs her camera to the midriffs of these eleven-year-olds and presents their rejection of traditional sexual mores as a necessary part of rejecting elements of Islamic tradition with which Doucoure disagrees.
Doucoure asks, “Can we as women really choose who we want to be beyond the role models that are imposed on us by society?” This is the question that motivates the creation of Cuties. Unfortunately, Doucoure fails to answer her own question, as her characters rebel from the traditional sexual mores displayed by the older Muslim women and immediately fall into the trap of Western licentiousness and social media hypersexualization. She fails to depict these young girls striving to be virtuous women, the true model of feminism that Doucoure ignores. The trailer certainly doesn’t provide even a glimpse of the impression that the girls might be suffering from choosing to use their freedom in this way. The fact that the trailer fails to suggest even a slight bit of tragedy suggests the real interpretation of Netflix’s film. As Rod Dreher of The American Conservative writes, “Think of a movie with an anti-gluttony message that spends half the movie filming eating pastries with lascivious abandon. It’s simply not credible.”
In the end, Doucoure’s film is a full-throated defense of sexual libertinism, which is now extended to eleven-year-old girls under the guise of “discovering their womanhood.” Netflix is complicit in creating what is one step short of child pornography. Cuties is completely abhorrent and displays an utter disregard for the dignity of women. It should not be tolerated.
Zef Crnkovich is a junior studying Classics and PLS. He loves watching beautiful, uplifting movies with friends. Please send movie recs and commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org.