When Netflix released the poster and trailer for the French film Cuties, it was heavily criticized, and even petitions were made to have it removed, for the hyper-sexualized way it depicted the child actresses. Following the backlash, people who saw the film back at Sundance spoke about how the poster did not capture the actual themes or story of the film.
However, it was too late for many who claimed the movie was for pedophiles and spread toxic stereotypes about young girls, especially Black girls. The person who received the most harassment, naturally, ended up being the movie’s director Maïmouna Doucouré.
Doucouré received death threats, she told Deadline, and ended up suspending her social media profile. Cuties was Doucouré’s film debut. The director, who is of Senegalese heritage, based it on both her own experiences and interviews she conducted with young girls about their concepts of femininity.
“I really put my heart into this film. It’s actually my personal story as well as the story of many children who have to navigate between a liberal western culture and a conservative culture at home,” Doucouré said. “I wrote this film after I spent a year and a half interviewing pre-adolescent girls, trying to understand their notion of what femininity was, and how social media was affecting this idea.”
She continued to say that “The main message of the film is that these young girls should have the time to be children, to enjoy their childhood, and have the time to choose who they want to be when they are adults. You have a choice, you can navigate between these cultures, and choose from the elements of both, to develop into your own self, despite what social media dictates in our society.”
Yet that is not what people saw, both on the poster and in the trailer, which did have images of girls dancing in ways people saw as too provocative. Doucouré says that she saw the poster at the same time the American public did because she was focusing on the film’s release in France, where she lives. When the messages on social media started, that is when she saw what was going on.
“I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hypersexualiation of children,” she explained. “I also received numerous death threats.”
Considering the way that the media does hyper-sexualize children, and the fact that social media has eroded a lot of the “parental control” barriers meant to keep them “innocent,” I think the concept that Cuties is exploring is worth getting into with the critical eye of a WoC. If the film still fails upon watching, that is worth discussing, but I also see so many people quick to point out twerking itself as inherently too sexual.
I hate to break it to you, guys, but children twerk. Dance tropes use it, and while that may be uncomfortable for people, the reality is that if we are going to be critical of the sexualized dancing of children, that means most dancing. Pointing specifically to twerking, which is a mostly Black dance, just seems to ignore that children and teens are hyper-sexualized regardless of whether they twerk or not. Just look at Britney Spears, Emma Watson, and the Stranger Things kids. People called Millie Bobby Brown “sexy” when she was sporting a shaved head and clutching boxes of Eggos.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos directly called Doucouré to apologize, and while the director says she doesn’t hold any grudges, this is just a reminder to that maybe filmmakers should be more involved with some marketing aspects, because until the film comes out, this will be the narrative people know about Cuties and will take with them into their viewings.
(via Deadline, image: Netflix)
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