Netflix’s French coming-of-age film Cuties has drawn significant attention over the past few weeks.
The film centres around an 11-year-old Senegalese girl, Amy, and her journey through adolescence as she attempts to fit in with her peers while attempting not to provoke her strict Muslim mother.
She starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.
When it debuted at Sundance earlier in the year, the film was met with high praise, taking home the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award — but since the promotion of the film began, it was marked as problematic.
In August of this year, Netflix promoted the film with a poster featuring Amy and her dance crew — the “cuties”. The girls were pictured in spandex crop-tops and shorts and in a now-deleted description said that Amy “becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew” and “starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
At this point in time, presumably, only those at Sundance had actually seen the film, however, the poster was enough to cause an uproar.
Twitter user Littlewarior7 uploaded the poster to social media, captioning his tweet: “Netflix WTF IS THIS [sic]” and then followed it with a petition to have the film “removed”— even though it hadn’t started streaming yet. At the time of publication, the petition has garnered over 573,300 signatures.
Even though a number of other petitions also cropped up on Change.org, and had a combined of over one million signatures, Netflix still chose to air it.
Netflix WTF IS THIS pic.twitter.com/v4FjZkH7K5
— koko • iconic era (@littlewarior7) August 19, 2020
“It was far worse than imagined,” Allison Mitchell, the name behind the petition wrote. “It contains inappropriate sexual material of minors (11 year olds) The actresses themselves are eleven! [sic]”
Writer and director Daniellé Dash then weighed in on the controversy.
“okay, so what the fuck you’re not going to do is petition to get a coming of age film about a little black girl by a black woman director, maimouna doucoure, removed from Netflix,” she wrote. “this description does not accurately portray what the film is about.”
She then followed the Tweet with another, showing a video of director Maïmouna Doucouré discussing why the movie was actually created.
In an interview with Deadline, Doucouré said she had received death threats and “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 hyper-sexualization of children.”
Rolling Stone writer David Fear, among many others, came to the director’s defence saying: “Out of context, the girls’ outfits look questionably flashy and trashy; seen in context, as the costumes for a hip-hop dance troupe competing for a grand prize, you understand how they function in regards to a bigger-picture message that Doucouré is trying to get across.”
It was a Twitter user, Yeetdere, who then compared the original poster that was released in France, to the one in the US.
In the French version, the girls are running down the street “having fun” with shopping bags, while the US version showed them in their costumes. Yeetdere pointed out that the Netflix marketing team had “a lot to answer for”.
its interesting to compare the french version of the cuties poster to the american version…
like the French version has more "kids having fun!" vibes, while the American version is just fucking…. gross.
I feel like the #Netflix marketing team has a lot to answer for. pic.twitter.com/c8QrX0EY75
— kitti (@yeetdere) August 20, 2020
In response to the uproar, Netflix issued an apology on its social channels.
“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties,” it read. “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.”
We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. 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.
— Netflix (@netflix) August 20, 2020
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos even called the director personally to apologise.
Even though the platform took the necessary steps to say sorry, it still hasn’t stopped or controlled the barrage of hate for the film and even got the “#CancelNetflix” hashtag trending, with some even associating the company with paedophilia.
Supporters of QAnon, a group that believes Hollywood is controlled by a ring of pedophiles, showed no mercy in attacking the film.
In the US, the film has drawn the attention of the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation in the United States.
“Netflix wants to have its cake and eat it too: it’s underwriting a coming-of-age story by a woman of color, which is laudable, but it has given a home to a film that depicts the oversexualization of children in a way that adds to the problem of child sexual exploitation,” it read.
.@NCOSE statement on why #CancelNeflix is valid: We commend the director for highlighting the reality of sexual pressure on girls, but why did Netflix need to exploit the actors to make the point? #BadFaith pic.twitter.com/t6S9rgIBdL
— Eleanor Gaetan (@EkGaetan) September 11, 2020
In a recent interview with Shadow and Act, Decouré said that “childhood is precious and we all have to protect our children.”
“We all have to come together to figure out what is best for our children so that we can give a beautiful space to our children to grow up safely and peacefully so that they can have the freedom to choose who they want to become and the best version of themselves.”
This story is evolving.
WATCH: The official trailer for Cuties.