It was only a matter of time before our entertainment became ground zero for the country’s current culture wars.
The French coming-of-age film “Cuties” first courted controversy with marketing material showing 11-year-old girls in suggestive poses but the tumult has really hit a fever pitch since its release, with U.S. congressmen calling for Netflix to remove the film and asking authorities to investigate whether the streaming service or filmmakers violated federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography. Not to mention many, many social media missives denouncing the film with a #CancelNetflix hashtag.
So, yeah, people have some thoughts about “Cuties.” Does it push a lot of buttons? For sure. Is it entertaining? Not really in a conventional sense. It’s honestly uncomfortable to watch in many places. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important or worthwhile, especially for parents.
“Cuties” stars Fathia Youssouf as a Senegalese immigrant named Amy who lives with her mom and younger brothers in a lower-class neighborhood in Paris. Her family is going through its own share of turmoil and Amy finds an escape from that when she watches another young girl named Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni) dancing in her apartment building’s laundry room like she hasn’t got a care in the world.
Angelica, as it turns out, is one of Amy’s classmates and the de facto leader of an amateur dance crew hoping to win a local dance competition. The girls wear inappropriately short skirts and tight shirts and watch videos of grown-ups twerking to get their latest moves. Coming from a conservative household, Amy is enamored of this sense of freedom and joins them, wearing one of her kid brother’s shirts as a crop top.
A series of rebellious moves leads Amy down a rabbit hole of increasingly bad decisions and increasingly suggestive dance moves, so much so that by the time they get to the Big Dance Off, audience members both young and old are turned off by the whole thing.
The same goes for the viewers who actually take the time to watch “Cuties.” Director Maïmouna Doucouré crafts a great character arc for Amy – and leaves her in a better place by the end – but also takes on the hypersexualization of little girls head-on by showing close-ups of Amy and her friends as they record their bumping and grinding. You want to turn away as it’s going on, it will definitely bother you, and that’s kind of the point Doucouré is making. In her artistic way, she’s imploring moms and dads to pay attention to your kids and what they’re watching and taking in as influences at such a formative age.
“Cuties” is a movie with kids but it’s not for kids. It has way more artistic merit than several seasons of “Toddlers Tiaras.” (Did we all just forget that happened?) Watch it if you want, don’t watch if you don’t, but its politicization is unfortunate for something that does actually have good intentions at its core.
With raging wildfires and a pandemic that doesn’t feel like it’s ending any time soon, “Cuties” doesn’t seem like our biggest problem as a nation. It might even change some hearts and minds for those who do queue it up on their Netflix. That might be asking a little much, though, especially in an election year.