'#CancelNetflix Is Valid': The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Weighs in on 'Cuties'

In the wake of Netflix releasing the French film Cuties on Wednesday, a number of people on Twitter have called for the streaming platform to pull the movie, which is being criticized for featuring young girls in sexually suggestive situations. Because of all the controversy, the hashtag #CancelNetflix has caught on with people on social media, and now the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has weighed in on the situation, saying that there's validity to the campaign behind the hashtag.

Originally titled Mignonnes in France, the film's description on Netflix says that the story involves an 11-year-old girl who "starts to rebel against her conservative family's traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew." The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and has an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics. Netflix began seeing a backlash to the film back in August, from Twitter users claiming that the film sexualizes children.

Cuties director Maïmouna Doucouré spoke about how young girls are exposed to overly sexualized women in an interview, called "Why I Made Cuties," that was released on YouTube on Wednesday, as part of Netflix's "Film Club" series. "Our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she's successful," she said in the video interview. "The children just imitate what they see trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning, and yeah, it's dangerous."

.@NCOSE statement on why #CancelNeflix is valid: We commend the director for highlighting the reality of sexual pressure on girls, but why did Netflix need to exploit the actors to make the point? #BadFaith pic.twitter.com/t6S9rgIBdL

— Eleanor Gaetan (@EkGaetan) September 11, 2020

Now, NCOSE has released a statement criticizing Netflix for distributing the film. In a tweet featuring the statement, the organization's director of public policy, Eleanor Gaetan, argued that while Doucouré's motives may have been noble, the production should not have used such young actors. "#CancelNeflix is valid: We commend the director for highlighting the reality of sexual pressure on girls, but why did Netflix need to exploit the actors to make the point," Gaetan wrote on Twitter, above a picture of the more formal statement.

In the statement, which was also received by Newsweek, NCOSE director of corporate and strategic initiatives, Lina Nealon, echoed a similar sentiment. "While we commend Maïmouna Doucouré for exposing the very real threats to young girls having unfettered access to social media and the internet, we cannot condone the hypersexualization and exploitation of the young actresses themselves in order to make her point," she said.

Nealon also suggested that certain edits to the movie be made. "Netflix could and should insist that the particularly sexually-exploitative scenes are cut from the film, or stop hosting this film at all," she said.

Initial backlash from the project started when posters for the film showed the stars in revealing clothing and a description described the dance group as a "twerking group." It even led to 4Chan banning the film from its site. Netflix updated the description and artwork and apologized, saying it misrepresented 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," a Netflix spokesperson said at the time.

Despite the film not being a Netflix original, people still called on Netflix users to cancel their subscriptions on Wednesday, after the movie was released on the platform, as previously reported. In a statement to Variety on Thursday, the streaming service again said that people on Twitter were mistaking the movie to be the very thing that it's criticizing. "Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children," a Netflix spokesperson told Variety. "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."

Press contacts for Netflix did not respond to Newsweek's emailed request for comment in time for publication.

A promotional photo shows the stars of "Cuties." Courtesy of Netflix