#CancelNetflix has been trending on social media in the last few weeks when the controversial movie, Cuties directed by Maïmouna Doucouré made its debut on Netflix in early September. Many have taken to social media to slate the film and demand that Netflix take the movie down. Netflix have responded with apology for the suggestive image they chose for their poster but have no intention to remove the movie and have supported Doucouré.

 

For those of you who haven’t yet heard about this new French film, here is a brief summary of the storyline. The film follows a young, 11 year-old Senegalese girl, Amy, who has just moved to a poor part of Paris with her family. They are conservative and devout Muslims. Her father is about to take another wife and Amy’s mother is distraught but putting on a brave face for the family, unaware Amy knows of her distress. Amy comes across Angelica in her housing block who dances provocatively. She follows Angelica and her group of friends at school and eventually forces her way into the group. They are in the midst of practising for a dance contest. Amy learns the dance moves and ends up teaching the other girls more provocative dance moves. The girls gain a huge following until their reputation is slightly tarnished. Amy attempts to regain a following by posting an image to social media. The other girls tell her she’s taken things too far and invite a previously dropped member back to dance with them in Amy’s place. Amy stops her replacement from getting to the dance contest and arrives to replace her. The other girls have no choice but to let her join. During the routine, Amy realises that this is not what she really wants for her life and leaves the stage and runs home. Her mother tells her she does not need to join the wedding celebrations. Amy changes back into normal clothes and goes outside to jump rope, smiling broadly as she jumps higher and higher. The movie closes with this scene.

 

The movie has been shot down for sexualisation of young girls, child pornography, child exploitation and inappropriate content. Netflix have felt the blow and, according to Movie Web, “cancellations were eight times higher than the average daily level on Saturday, September 12th. In addition, stock prices for the streaming platform fell at the same time.”

 

Netflix, despite the uproar, seem to have no intention to pull the movie and defended Doucouré. She herself has been surprised by the backlash. Movie Web quoted her response,

“I thought the film would be accepted. It played to Sundance and was watched by American people there; I met the public there and they really saw that the film is about a universal issue…It’s not about French society-the hyper-sexualization of children happens through social media and social media is everywhere. People [at Sundance] agreed with that.”

 

The Sundance Film Festival awarded Doucouré the Directing Award.

 

With all this controversy buzzing, it seemed appropriate that my husband should make a comment, since he fights for freedom from pornography which is fuelled by sex trafficking and also includes sexual images of children. However, it felt unwise to go ahead and make a comment without being informed.

 

So I watched it.

 

I believe many who criticise this movie haven’t seen it. The question is, does one need to watch it to have an opinion?

One thing all those criticising the movie sweep swiftly over are the underlying messages in the movie. This script is intended to shock. It is intended to show that young girls are sexualised at an early age not to sexualise young girls. The story follows the lives of these girls who desperately want to be popular yet find a childish fun in games like stuffing their mouths full of jelly babies. The movie contrasts these two worlds – their desire to be popular and their immaturity as they are still very much little girls. All these girls come from dysfunctional families and are seeking love and affirmation. One of the saddest scenes in the movie was a conversation between Amy and Angelica. As Angelica speaks, her voice breaks,

“They are always saying what a bad daughter I am to them; what a failure I am to them. But people like me. They like me a lot, right Amy? My mom and dad, they don’t know I have a gift…not yet. But I dreamed they came to see me dance and told me I was good. I heard if you dream something three times, it comes true. It’s been twice so far…”

 

How devastating that the family life that these children know can drive them to look for love elsewhere. How heartbreaking to realise that the lack of love in a home can make or break a child in their formative years of life and the impact is lifelong.

All these little girls ache for is acceptance and love from their families. When they don’t find it there, they turn to their following on social media. And they will do whatever it takes to get that following…

 

Although the movie has the intent to create awareness of how young girls are impacted by broken homes and social media, that message is hidden in the content and tacked on at the end. The real message I believe the movie conveys will be in Part 2.

Photo Credit: Jean-Michel Papazian/Netflix

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