Written by Malin Evita
This piece was originally published on Vocal, September 11th 2020.
Warning: This piece talks about the sexual exploitation of real children as well as spoilers for the movie “Cuties”.
When Netflix announced that the French film “Cuties” (Mignonnes) would be released on their platform September 9th, people were immediately outraged. The poster featured four young girls clad in tight crop tops and booty shorts in very easily sexualised positions. The description initially read:
“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
After the immediate outrage, Netflix apologised for the blatant sexualisation of the 11-year-old girls, claiming:
“It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”
At first, I did not know what to think. I found interviews with the director, French-Senegalese Maïmouna Doucouré, talking about how it was a movie about womanhood in modern society and the overt hypersexualisation of young girls.
I thought to myself, was it possible that this movie was purely misrepresented through Netflix’ marketing? I defended Doucouré and told people that I would hold my judgement till I was able to actually watch the film in its full context.
And so I did.
Cuties follow the 11-year-old Muslim girl Amy as she, along with her mother and two younger brothers, have just moved into a new apartment complex. As she walks down the hallway in her headscarf after a prayer-session, she catches another young girl, Angelica, clothed in tight leggings and crop-top dancing suggestively as she does her laundry.
She finds out that Angelica is part of a twerking dance crew at her new school. Infatuated with their clothes, choreography, and admiration from strangers, she becomes determined to join them. And thus the spiral sets off.
At first, she starts to wear her toddler brother’s t-shirts and tries to learn their dances. Then she steals the phone of a guy who lives in the same complex as her and starts posting pictures of herself on some social media app where the other girls are also on.
She becomes part of the “Cuties” crew, and they begin to practise for a dance competition. Their routine is overtly sexual (and very similar to the WAP TikTok dance, just to give you an idea) and strangers on the internet love it. It’s affirming to Amy, and she continues to fall further down the rabbit hole.
As the guy who’s phone she stole realises that she was the one who took it, she locks herself in the bathroom, pulls down her pants and undies, and snaps and uploads a picture of her private parts. She wanted to prove herself to everyone calling the Cuties kids. She wanted to prove that she was a woman. But she isn’t, and her friends end up shunning her just before the big competition.
But this is who she is now. She dresses up in their outfits, and hides behind a wall, waiting for the girl who has replaced her to turn up. When she does, Amy pushes her into a river and runs to the stage. The other girls are still upset with her, but they don’t have time to discuss as they are rushed on stage.
And this is where she, and I, as the viewer, breaks.
They perform their dance; twerking, “throwing it back”, sticking out their tongues, and batting their eyelashes. The women in the audience boo and cover their children’s’ eyes—the men in the crowd nod and smirk.
The camera rolls over the actresses and their body parts. Amy realises what is happening, what has been done to her and runs home to her mother’s arms. She puts on different clothes and walks outside to see the neighbourhood children playing and laughing like the kids they are—like the kid she is.
This movie is gutting, beautiful, and deals with a crucial subject matter. Cuties tell the story of the girls in our western culture who are robbed of their childhood and said that it is through pre-mature hypersexual expression that they are valued. Cuties is well-written, directed, and performed. But here is the thing,
None of that matters.
The context and commentary do not matter. Because I will tell you right here and now that no paedophile who watches this movie is going to give a single shit about the context or “moral of the story”. They will only care about the child pornography, which is presented before them. The context does not matter.
These are real girls. These are real children. And through Doucouré’s attempt at commenting on the sexual exploitation of young girls, she and every single person who had a hand in the making of this movie, sexually exploited children.
Had the actresses not been minors, had the movie maybe been animated, had the film not featured voyeuristic images of genuine children, I may be able to see the film for what it claims to be. But that is not the case. The actresses in this movie are children. They didn’t consent to this. They can’t because they are children. Their parents, the filmmaker, the producers, the executives, and every single person listed in the credits of this film are complicit in the sexual exploitation of young, pre-teen girls.
The story is powerful. But it is hypocrisy at its most dangerous. You cannot claim to condemn the hypersexualisation of children and then go on to do just that. I wonder what these girls will think in 5 years. I wonder how this will affect them. These images will forever live on the internet, and anyone can use them for whatever they wish. They will never be gone.
How not one of the hundreds of people who worked on this movie took a step back and said “Hey, this is really, really wrong,” is beyond me. How Netflix continues to defend it as commentary and award-winning (because that means it’s good! Right..?) is beyond me.
This film is paedophilic voyeurism.
To think that not a single person who was part of this production decided to protect these girls is frightening and says a more about this culture than Doucouré’s immoral film ever could. This is not okay.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the co-host of the podcast Making It: Women in Film, curator of their Instagram page, and a writer focusing on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and is currently studying Professional Writing Skills at college.