On September 9, streaming behemoth Netflix will debut a new film on its platform titled “Cuties.” The movie, by French writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré, follows the exploits of 11-year-old Amy, who hopes to break free from her conservative Senegalese upbringing by joining a twerking dance troupe. The synopsis tells us that Amy, through her “sensual” dancing, will “ignite awareness of her burgeoning femininity.” But will the girls successfully “twerk their way to stardom”? You’ll have to watch to find out. That is, if you’re on a registry somewhere and interested in this kind of content.
Though probably not on registries, many film critics are indeed interested in this kind of content. The film currently has a depressing 82 percent “fresh” rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics tell us that the story of pubescent children dancing sensually is a “compelling crowd-pleaser” that “heralds an indelible directorial voice” and must be “respected for its audacity.”
Some of the reviewers claim that the film is a “commentary” on the sexualization of children, but you can watch the trailer for yourself and see how it’s being pitched.
Most especially, look at the promo image featuring scantily clad children striking their “sensual” poses, one of whom is on all fours.
The synopsis is nothing but 👀 https://t.co/Q0z1bACFKe
— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) August 19, 2020
Even if you are inclined to buy the dubious excuse that this is meant to be some sort of commentary or criticism, that doesn’t change how Netflix has chosen to promote the film through its marketing material.
It should also be noted that, according to an interview in Variety with the “Cuties” producer, they filled the lead role with an 11-year-old actress. If they are looking to provide a critical commentary on the sexualization of children, it is hard to understand why they would want 11-year-olds to provide the demonstration. It seems rather counterproductive to decry something by actually doing the thing you are decrying.
In an interview with The Wrap, the director explained her reason for making the film:
Doucouré spoke to TheWrap at this year’s Sundance and explained how growing up in France with traditional parents from Senegal made her want to explore in “Cuties” the question of whether we should “have the right to choose which women we can be in this world.”
“In our culture, even today, I can say I’m not totally free,” Doucouré said. “Because I love to wear short dresses and at the same time, when I go to a religious ceremony, I wear a veil. Just choose as a woman: who do you want to be?”
The point, as explained by the director, seems quite different from calling attention to child sexual exploitation. This would seem to be much more a display of that sexualization than a commentary on it. Perhaps “Cuties” will comment on the sexualization of children in the same way that a film like “The Purge” comments on violence. Namely, by going out of its way to the appeal to the sorts of people who want to see it. But that’s not commentary at all — it’s exhibition.
It’s not as though this is all unprecedented for Netflix. For years now the streaming platform has aired a cartoon aimed at teens that advocates masturbation, pornography, and things even more graphic. They’ve been down this road before.
And this is all of course part of a larger trend in Hollywood, one that seems to be picking up even more steam of late. Just a few weeks ago, a film called “Yes, God, Yes” — another masterpiece, according to critics, anyway — was released to streaming and on-demand viewing. According to The Stylist, it “explores the joys (and shame) of female masturbation” through the adventures of its 16-year-old protagonist. The writer and director, Karen Maine, says she’s hoping the film helps her “younger audience” feel “less weird” about discovering their sexuality.
It seems a lot of people in Hollywood are quite determined to “help” children in this way. And it’s all the more reason why parents must be increasingly vigilant in our culture.