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‘Cuties’ is more than the hysteria would have you believe

Rating:

Cuties is the directorial debut from French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré and is about a Senegalese refugee, Amy, now living in France. The film shows Amy torn between trying to be accepted by the popular girls in the dance troupe called ‘Cuties’ led by a girl named Jessica, while also preparing for her father’s second wedding to a new wife.

Maïmouna Doucouré added to the film her experiences of living as a Senegalese refugee and embarrassingly this is the first film that I can think of which is directed by a black woman that I’ve seen. The film won the ‘Best World Director’ at Sundance Film Festival, so in theory it is being released to the wider public with at least some guarantee of quality.

You would not realise this however, for the fact that people are posting their cancelled Netflix subscriptions screenshots on social media to show the displeasure at them posting a film which, according to them, has the sole purpose of sexualising children. This controversy started when Netflix’s worldwide poster was released for this film and it seemed like it was quite blatantly trying to objectify these children in the same way adult female dancers would get sexualised.

it is a very good film about media with overt suggestive themes being aimed at young people going on to influence them into repeating the popular acts they see

I only watched Cuties this quickly because of the controversy surrounding it. It is not what Twitter would have you actually believe; instead it is a very good film about media with overt suggestive themes being aimed at young people going on to influence them into repeating the popular acts they see. Examples of this being the music being used in the background and the dances seen as the most popular on Google Images by Amy and her dance troupe.

There is an argument to be had that Cuties has failed to convey its themes due to the fact that people are focusing on the means of its message. You could argue that by having children repeat twerk dances, the main focus of the dance troop, that it is perpetuating the problem it wants to talk about. Equally, it could be argued that the director is reclaiming her childhood experiences which the film is based on.

I don’t think the escalation in Amy wishing to sexualise herself was as believable as the film wanted it to be, but I like the stark contrast presented throughout between her family’s very conservative attitudes towards showing skin versus a very liberal attitude shown by Jessica and the rest of the dance cohort, with the flaws of both put on show. There’s no real sense given that either view is the right one, which is a sensible stance to take because they are two extremes.

At its core, Cuties is really a film about the influence of both religion and contemporary secular culture on impressionable young people and the supposed scenes of paedophilia bait takes a lot more of a backseat than Twitter commentators would have you believe. For every scene featuring the children dancing in suspect ways, there are many scenes between showcasing Amy’s relationship with her family and friends.

I think the people complaining probably need to watch the film and then watch The Hunt to realise how toxic hysteria can be when it is based on misinformation. This is yet another example of how perpetuated misinformation online pollutes any sensible discourse as once you accuse one side of justifying paedophilia, there is not much further the conversation can go. Films don’t win ‘Best World Director’ at Sundance because the festival is trying to facilitate paedophilia, they win it because they have thematic depth emphasised by the composition of the film.

It is a shame that people attack the film on Twitter as if it is presenting fictional problems that exist in a made-up world. This is based on the director’s own experiences and in a world where children have virtually unrestricted access to the Internet, there is not a lot stopping them from seeing content similar to the social media content shown in this film or even watching uncapped amounts of porn instead.

One great sequence around the middle of the film was just watching the Cuties dancing on some steps with a song in the background about women shaking their butts to attract men and money in a club. I thought this was a great way of showing off the fact that suggestive themes are a mainstay in the pop music genre: think songs like Wiggle, Anaconda and, most recently, WAP.

Considering the story is about a refugee girl trying her best to be popular, being influenced by listening to the most played songs and trying to replicate pictures that get the most likes on social media is something that is bound to happen to her. The film is exploring a very real issue with growing up in the modern day at that age, but it is going to keep getting dismissed because of the spurious accusations thrown its way.

it’s edited in such a way that reactions around it will be shown as that is what the film is mainly focusing on, from Amy’s friends encouraging her to disgusted audience reactions shown at the end of the film

The film could be seen as gratuitous in terms of the dancing it shows: it’s edited in such a way that reactions around it will be shown as that is what the film is mainly focusing on, from Amy’s friends encouraging her to disgusted audience reactions shown at the end of the film. If we’re suggesting that this dancing isn’t allowed to be shown, then what about the scenes of children being depicted as an object of desire in American Beauty, Lolita and Once Upon a Time in America? All currently widely-regarded as classics.

If this is sexualising children, then what on earth is The Inbetweenersin comparison? All the characters are under the age of 18 and they are constantly depicted as masturbating, being nude and trying to have sex.  It’s far more graphic than Cuties is and I think this is further proof of the double standards people are applying, mainly because they are not thinking about context while criticising the film itself. Even though the actors are over 18, simulated child porn is still illegal and therefore seen to be as damaging as the real thing.

Netflix did a stupid job with their marketing for the film though and that can’t be dispute; there was an original poster that looked far better, but the only explanation I can think of is that Netflix assumed the controversy would have more people watch the film. The film does an exceptional job of balancing its themes and is carried by very impressive performances and camerawork all around. If you can look past the hysteria and how uncomfortable the dancing scenes are, then this is an exceptional watch that I recommend everyone check out.

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