The Netflix film Cuties received controversy this month over its provocative tone and poor choice of movie poster. The film was originally made in France and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré. Doucouré’s original intent when making the film was not only to share her experience as a refugee when she was younger, but it was also to gain awareness and shine light on some of the issues many young girls may be experiencing.
The film follows main character Amy as she starts to fall in love with being like the girls around her. She views the culture she was raised in as sheltered and boring. In the start of the film, Amy is the primary caretaker of her younger brother, while her mom takes care of the new born baby. Amy’s father has been living abroad the last few months and chooses to bring home another wife, which is common practice within her Muslim culture.
Because of this, Amy’s mother becomes distant in her daughter’s life as Amy struggles to welcome a new family member.
As a result of Amy’s complicated home life and having no one her age to hang out with, she befriends the popular, dancing girls her age at the local school. In the process, she gets engulfed in the world of online media, dancing for online views, showing off her skin and acting in a sexual manner.
After Netflix purchased the rights to the film and translated it into English, there was controversy for the film’s poster, description (which Netflix has now changed) and “promotion of sexualization among young girls” which many people online argued was happening through Netflix’s promotion of the film.
As a result, I watched the film to see what all of the controversy was about. However, I viewed the film through Doucouré’s viewpoint and original message when she made the film. At the end, I whispered to myself “that film was amazing,” and here’s why.
I do not think anything done in the film is right by any means. No young girl should have to go through the same journey and challenges that Amy faced in the film. However, looking at it from a director and film lover perspective, everything is perfect. The dialog, shot composition, lighting and stage is set up wonderfully. Throughout the film we get beautiful shots that have zero dialogue, yet the film moves as if the dialogue is present. The music in the film is phenomenal as well with the music being perfectly chosen for each scene.
Looking at the message of this film, Doucouré did a wonderful job at making the message clear and emotional. Towards the end of the film, we see Amy come to terms with what she has done and learn that it is not right. She doesn’t go completely back to the culture she grew up in, but she does leave the culture she had put herself in.
Many people online were quick to blame Netflix and its advertising team for presenting such a sensitive film to the point that individuals boycotted Netflix and signed petitions to get the film taken down. But is Netflix really the one at fault? The presentation of the film definitely should have been different, but I don’t think that Netflix is the only place young girls can see this happening. Currently, there are many young girls close in age to the girls in the film that are present on social media. Online they are exposed to all of the same factors, not by other girls their age but by society. We constantly think to ourselves “they should not be doing that, it’s too young for them,” but in reality no one is telling them no online. Young girls are constantly being fed messages that it is okay to dance in front of a camera, show off some skin and even say derogatory things because that’s what they see online.
In order for change to happen within our society, we have to stop blaming societal problems on big corporations who are “corrupting our youth” and ask ourselves “what am I doing to promote, or go against this practice?” Doucourés film was not only to show that this was happening, but to show how it was happening and how easily it was happening.
Amy in the film was influenced by other girls her age, but her friends were the ones looking up to older girls as examples. Throughout the film we also see that Amy could hide what she was doing from her parents for days on end without them having any idea. Doucouré used the family dynamic, as well as the relationships between characters, to highlight how easy it is for someone to hide something right in front of our noses.
Often in today’s world, we see this happen so much that we become blind to it. Doucouré uses her film to open our eyes, take off our veil and ask ourselves some tough questions. I encourage anyone who views the film to watch it through the lens of what it could be and what it was originally meant for. Pay attention not to just Amy, but watch the other characters very closely. See what they are and are not teaching her. See how they react when they learn of her whereabouts, and see how she describes her parents and her family. Then ask yourself deep questions. Figure out if you are contributing to the cause or contributing to the solution.
Overall, the film brings viewers to examine themselves and their lives. It causes us to question what we are promoting among our children, sisters, friends and peers.