'Cuties': The Controversy Around the 'Sexualised' Netflix Movie Explained

Cuties was released onto Netflix this week, leading to a massive backlash to the French-Senegalese movie. Before the film was even released, there were calls to ban the movie over what its critics called the sexualization of young girls within the movie, leading to images from the film being banned from anonymous internet forum 4chan.

However, this controversy got even worse when the film finally came to Netflix.

After Cuties came out, #CancelNetflix started to trend on Twitter, and so far 600,000 people have signed a petition pledging to cancel their subscription as a result of the streamer airing the film. However, as with controversial movies since cinemas began, the irony of this controversy is that it has probably caused thousands more people to have watched the film than would have otherwise out of pure curiosity about why the movie has become such a controversial one.

American viewers first got to see Cuties (or to use its original French title, Mignonnes) at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, at which director Maïmouna Doucouré won a directing award in the world cinemas competition.

At this point, numerous reviews pointed out the sexualization that was part of the film's plot. An IndieWire article, for example, notes that the movie sees the dancing troupe the Cuties compete against an older dance group known for its sexual moves. Not fully understanding these moves and wanting to compete with the other troupe, the younger girls start copying their moves.

The review said of this: "The audience must endure their sexualization as increasingly horrified spectators. The girls vacillate between being hyper-interested in the opposite sex (the girls push Amy to videotape a cute boy in the bathroom) and being freaked out by its actual mechanics."

This is a movie written by a Senegalese French woman pulling from her own experience as a refugee girl. Netflix replaced the original poster with a creepily sexualised one. Stop trying to cancel the movie and start giving Netflix bs instead of ending a potentially+ pic.twitter.com/nw2CwOwb6e

— Alive And Breathing (@AliveAndBreath3) August 23, 2020

As this review makes clear, the sexualization of these girls is the whole point of the film and acts as a commentary on the ways that society sexualizes young women.

Or, as an L.A. Times review put it, the film, "is about the power, the danger and the limitations of a child's gaze—everything it can discover, absorb and misinterpret."

However, as is often typical of social media, the nuance of this argument soon got lost. This was not helped by the Netflix poster for the film. While the original French posts showed the four girls fairly covered up and walking down the street, the Netflix poster showed the girls in skimpy tops and shorts in a series of dance positions typical of female dancers in hip hop videos. The original Netflix description for the film called the Cuties group a "twerking dance crew."

If this was your first glimpse of the film (which for most people on Twitter it likely was unless they were fully up to date with French-Senegalese cinema), it was easy to see why someone could think this was a film that was shamelessly sexualizing young girls rather than criticizing this exact thing.

This, of course, was made worse by the media reaction, typified by a Breitbart article that made the slightly absurd decision to pixelate the girl's midriffs.

The release of this poster led to a number of reactions on the internet. A Change.org petition was released urging people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions.

cuties netflix
'Cuties' has been hit with criticism since Netflix announced it would be streaming the movie. Netflix

Its originator wrote on the site: "As I have been researching content that exploits children and creates a disturbing vibe, I have found many shows and movies on Netflix to have similar inappropriate behaviors as Cuties, the movie this petition was originally based off. As Netflix has chosen to ignore the petition and the wishes of its customers, I feel we need to ban together and cancel our subscriptions! Please sign and share. Please make the choice to prove to Netflix our children are more valuable than our entertainment, and our money is better spent else where!"

Around the same time, a post was put onto 4chan reading: "Do not post any imagery from this show [sic] which sexualizes children. Anyone posting images or videos sexualizing children will receive permanent bans. Netflix may allow this crap, 4chan does not."

Netflix then apologized for this image in later August, writing in a statement to Variety, "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 premiered at Sundance. We've now updated the pictures and description."

Then, on September 3, a Turkish media watchdog demanded that the film not appear on the country's Netflix, alleging that it contained images of child exploitation even though they had not actually seen the film.

Director Maïmouna Doucouré on September 4 reacted to this international controversy in a Time interview, saying that her film had been misinterpreted. "For me, this film is sounding an alarm," the director told the magazine. "This film tries 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."

She added to Time that the Netflix campaign "didn't really represent the film properly," before saying, "I just hope that these people will watch the film, because then they will realize we are actually on the same side of this battle against the hypersexualization of children."

However, in criticizing the sexualization of children, Cuties features some scenes that some have said show these children being sexualized.

This led to further criticisms when the IMDB parents guide for the film revealed that the film featured the main girls "danc[ing] suggestively in front of a live adult audience," while another scene shows an 11-year-old taking a picture of her genitals—though the guide notes that "no nudity is actually shown."

When the film was released on Netflix on September 10, #CancelNetflix became Twitter's top trend in the U.S. It is too early to know, however, exactly how successful this campaign will actually be, and how many people who end up watching the movie will find it an attack on child sexualization or simply sexualization all of its own.

Cuties is streaming now on Netflix.