Is Cuties cute? Or is it lowkey child porn? Let's find out.
Cuties, a french film by Maïmouna Doucouré, won the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Lucky for me, the film is available on Netflix. There has been intense backlash and demand that the film be removed from the site. I will judge whether or not that should happen.
First, let's talk about the poster Netflix initally put out. The original French release shows the girls with shopping bags and confetti. Looks like a fun movie right? The poster Netflix released shows the girls in their dance uniforms. Tiny shorts, midriffs, and butts sticking out. Now there is nothing wrong with the clothing, because these are children. I don’t look at a kid's stomach and think that this is a heinous crime. The poses are the main issue for me. It looks like a poster you would see for an adult film rather than a coming of age story. The original poster conveys the intended message better. While Netflix removed the image, there is still an issue of executives thinking this was morally okay. They also had a very inappropriate description for the movie. Both are now changed on the site and they have apologized.
I would say about the first third or fourth of the movie actually isn't that bad. Amy lives with her mother and two brothers. She is an immigrant from Senegal, so she is new to school and has no friends her age. She notices the local dance group the Cuties. The girls defy all authority, openly bullying Amy calling her homeless. The bullying is only ever halted by Angelica, a girl from her building. Angelica is the best role model and friend Amy has. Her mother is very submissive; when finding out Amy's father is marrying another woman, she goes along with the arrangement and even helps plan the wedding and makes a room for the couple in her own home. Amy witnesses her mom have an emotional breakdown, even hitting herself. Amy see's the Cuties as an escape from her home life. Amy strives to be accepted by the group, constantly practicing the group's dance moves for their dance competition. She steals her cousin's phone so she can be on social media. When hanging out, the Cuties go onto an app similar to Omegle and talk with an older boy. One of the girls flirts with the boy and asks if he wants to "See her tits". Angelica turns on the camera and mic, then ends the call.
Now lets talk about what's wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with talking with an older person, the line is crossed when anything sexual or romantic is involved. Luckily the boy realized the girls are not of age, is disgusted, and leaves. The group also flirts with older boys when they are out. The group says they are 14 while Amy says they are 11, and they get mad at her because she didn't lie, so they couldn't be flirted on by boys. There are so many red flags. The girls shouldn't have lied about their age, and the boys should've been more cautious talking to them. Also it seems that the boys were highschool age, so 14 is too young and predatory. I know the age of consent in France is 15 (I don't agree with that), but they are engaging with the girls. Actively thinking about the age of a girl and how long until she is the age of consent is not appropriate. They are then thinking of the girl sexually in a pedophilic way.
The turning point really comes when Amy is introduced to sexual content. While watching a rival group dance on social media, one of the girls flashes the camera. Then she starts watching sexy music videos, copying the dances. When one of the girls gets kicked out of the group, Amy finally has a chance to join. She shows Angelica that they can dance by doing moves that look exactly like ones from WAP. She changes the girls routine to include twerking and grinding. Then, when she is confronted by her cousin for stealing his phone, she begins to take off her clothes infront of him. He yells at her disgusted and she locks herself into the bathroom, takes a nude photo of herself, and posts it on social media. She also steals her mother's money to go shopping with her friends at the mall. Amy is awoken the morning of the dance competition auditions at 5 am to help make food for the wedding. She is literally crying cutting probably fifty onions. Seeing that she is going to be late for the competition, she runs away from Auntie. She misses the audition and is later kicked out of the Cuties for posting the nude photo. Her mother finally decides to take action. She has Amy be cleansed in some religious ceremony and has some type of priest come to "get rid of the evil". The only reasonable adult in this movie is the priest guy. He tells her mother that she isn't possesed or whatever, she is just acting out from her father's second marriage. He tells her mother that it's okay to get a divorce if that will help Amy.
Now lets list what questionable things Amy has done so far. She stole her cousin's phone. Even though he is family that is still stealing. She begins twerking and grinding which is very sexual compared to the groups original dance moves. She takes a bathroom photo of a boy at school, while the photo wasn't successful, she still invaded someone's personal space and tried to take a sexual photo of them. She tried to take off her clothes to stop her cousin from taking back his phone. She twerked infront of security guards to get out of getting arrested for sneaking into lazer tag. She took a nude photo of herself and posted it online, which is literally child pornography. Now I am not blaming her for her actions, she is a literal child and she is only reflecting what she sees in her environment. It's the adults responsibility to protect the child. All adults in her life have failed Amy. She only sees two extremes in her life; being a sad housewife or a twerking dancer. While at school, she gets sexually harassed by a male classmate. Amy is very confused at any backlash she gets for being sexual, since she sees other girls taking nudes and being treated like gods. She fights the rival dance group at school.
Finally, the dance competition has arrived. Amy goes to the competition even though she was told not to by the group, but luckily for her, one of the girls is missing so she fills in her spot. Now, let me tell you, I skipped many of the dance scenes. This was the worst one yet. I skipped the whole thing. Amy stops dancing in the middle of the routine and leaves. She goes home and runs into her mother's arms crying. Her mother finally does some good parenting and tells Amy she doesn't have to come to the wedding if she doesn't want to. At the end of the movie, we see Amy in jeans and a sweater, heading outside away from the wedding to play with other kids her age. She looks very happy.
Now, that was a lot. While I see the director's vision when discussing the sexualization of girls at a young age, this could've been done better. You don't do awareness for forest fires by starting one. She could've even just written a book so that no child actors had to be sexualized in the process. One of the youngest actresses in the film is 11. Or maybe she could've just written a memoir about her experiences as a child. The movie could've gotten the message across without having actual scenes of children twerking and blowing up a condom. While this movie will bring awareness with how bad it is, this could've been prevented. They could have focused on Amy's relationship with her mother without trashing on their religion. Amy's actions are not a result of her religion, they are a reaction to her mother not putting Amy's needs first. There are no bad religions, only bad believers. The characters could've been played by older actresses. So many things could've been done to prevent this movie from being so disgusting.
So do I think Cuties is child porn? No, but I don't agree with the director's actions and I believe the actresses were put in danger. I don't think Netflix should be banned since this film is an award winner, but we need to be mindful about how movies can negatively influence real life. I hope no young girls accidently watch this movie, because it will ruin them. Please don't watch Cuties unless you want to know how to not raise awareness with a movie. Excuse me while I bleach my eyes.