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French Cinema Group Stands By Cuties in the Face of America’s Embarrassing “Violent Reaction”

image from the netflix movie cuties

Following Netflix’s completely off-the-mark advertising for the French Sundance darling Cuties, the reaction out of America was intense. People called for a boycott of Netflix, which was hosting the movie in the U.S. and demanding the platform not release it, and the film’s director, Maïmouna Doucouré, says she received death threats.

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UniFrance, which works to promote French cinema internationally, has released a statement offering its “full support” to Doucouré, as well as to the film’s producer and distribution team, and expresses concern over the “exceptionally violent reaction” seen in the United States.

That reaction was in response to a poster released by Netflix that seemed to depict the young protagonists in a hyper-sexualized way that did not match the tone of the film. At that point, though, the film had not yet been released in the U.S., and a game of internet Telephone quickly unfolded. Concerned (as well as “concerned”) people began circulating misleading synopses and screenshots of some parental warnings submitted to IMDB.

Taken at face value, those warnings, especially alongside the poster released by Netflix, would be concerning. But it was clear that no one railing against the movie online had actually seen it, since not only were the most widely circulated parental warnings taken wildly out of context, but these people seem to think the film is advocating for the kind of hyper-sexualization of young girls that it’s actually critiquing.

Moreover, the movie is critiquing the ways in which we refuse to address the conflicting messages young girls face, and how they internalize our society’s objectification of women in confusing, destructive ways. You don’t have to like the movie or the way it delivers its message, but if these people railing against it so viciously actually saw it—or even listened to what it was actually about instead of just relying on rightwing commentators’ screenshots—they might have found an interesting conversation waiting for them.

Which is, essentially, what UniFrance said in their statement:

Cuties offers a subtle and sophisticated denunciation of the hyper-sexualization of a young generation who translate and reproduce the images that inundate them in their daily lives, particularly via social media. Whether we are spectators, parents, teenagers, producers, or distributors, this film invites us to reflect on the power of these images and the complexity of the constant dialogue between young people and the generation of their parents. This film appeals to our sense of discernment, be that on an individual or a collective level, and calls on us to assume our responsibilities.

The group goes on to express concern over the American reaction to the movie.

Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a presidential election campaign in full swing. In this context, UniFrance and all of its members wish to pledge their full support to Maïmouna Doucouré and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression. This is because one of the great strengths of cinema is its capacity to reach beyond borders and boundaries, and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies.

UniFrance’s purpose is to promote French artists and their films to international audiences. When Maïmouna Doucouré invites and encourages us to reflect on social issues, it is therefore of essential importance to UniFrance that her work is able to travel the globe and to speak freely without the risk of receiving threats in all of the countries and regions in which her film is shown. It is crucial that this space of artistic creation and distribution is preserved, not only for this young filmmaker but also for all artists around the world. This is a battle to defend freedom and diversity.

“Furthermore,” the statement continues, “we consider that the call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalogue, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas.”

Shutting down nuanced conversation about difficult ideas? Denying artists their freedom of expression? Hmm, this must be that “cancel culture” we’re always hearing so much about.

(via Deadline, image: Netflix)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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