The Controversy Over 'Cuties' Should Come As No Surprise

Written by on October 14, 2020

Netflix govt Ted Sarandos expressed disbelief Monday in response to a Texas grand jury’s resolution to indict the streaming service over its controversial French-language film “Cuties.” 

“It’s a little bit stunning in 2020 America that we’re having a dialogue about censoring storytelling,” Sarandos stated. 

However is it? Particularly a couple of film like “Cuties,” which appears significantly poised for this actual type of dialogue? 

It is a coming-of-age film a couple of Black, Muslim, preteen woman navigating her budding sexuality and the darkish realities of being a younger woman in a tradition that sexualizes and polices girls’s and ladies’ our bodies. Amy (Fathia Youssou, who’s 14) is an 11-year-old trapped between the 2 worlds of her loving however unstimulating residence life, dictated by prayer and obedience, and the world of a gaggle of rebellious cool ladies in school whom she desperately needs to slot in with.

On this case, becoming in means dressing like them, in revealing crop tops and quick skirts, speaking about boys and intercourse, and rehearsing suggestive dance strikes as a part of the group’s “twerk crew.” It’s these parts of the movie which have clearly proved probably the most controversial.

The Oct. 6 indictment by a grand jury in rural Tyler County, which names Sarandos and his co-CEO, Reed Hastings, says the film knowingly promotes “visible materials which depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic space of a clothed or partially clothed youngster who was youthful than 18 years of age on the time the visible materials was created, which appeals to the prurient curiosity in intercourse, and has no critical, literary, inventive, political, or scientific worth.”  

Criticism of “Cuties” (the French title is “Mignonnes”) has likened the movie to glorified youngster pornography. It’s not youngster pornography, however whereas there are moments of magnificence and poetry within the film, there’s additionally imagery that’s troublesome, jarring and brings up questions on learn how to successfully critique the sexualization of younger ladies with out sexualizing them — significantly for the gaze of adults — within the course of. 

However “Cuties” is primarily within the gaze, within the perspective, of its younger protagonist. Amy is consistently wanting and observing, via telephone screens, from behind fences, via cracks in doorways.

I met with lots of of preteens who informed me their tales. I wanted to know the way they felt about their very own femininity in right now’s society and the way they handled their self-image at a time when social media is so vital. writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré

“Our ladies see that the extra a girl is overly sexualized on social media, the extra she is profitable,” writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré defined in a director’s assertion included within the press launch for the movie. “Kids simply imitate what they see, making an attempt to attain the identical consequence with out understanding the that means. It’s harmful.” (Doucouré declined to touch upon the Netflix indictment.) 

In a single scene, Amy awkwardly makes an attempt to seduce an older cousin when he learns she stole his telephone. She then locks herself within the lavatory, takes an image of her vulva and posts it to social media in a determined try for validation and approval. We don’t see the image, however the implication of it’s heartbreaking and disturbing sufficient. Later, in class, a boy at school slaps Amy’s butt as she walks to the chalkboard. 

“She’s the one placing up nude photographs of herself on-line!” the boy protests when he’s reprimanded by a instructor. “You’re the slut, not me!” 

Within the climax of the film, Amy and her pals (or frenemies, it’s all the time altering) carry out a routine at a dance competitors that horrifies the judges and viewers alike. Wearing tight crop tops and tiny shorts, the 4 ladies twerk, gyrate, suggestively suck their fingers, arch their backs and pat their crotches. The routine appears to stretch on without end, changing into step by step extra horrifying to look at, which is probably the purpose. Their choreography is paying homage to the older, horny dance teams they obsessively comply with on social media, the teams with hundreds of likes. Nevertheless it isn’t entertaining. It’s implicating. 

At one level, the digital camera cuts away from the ladies to a medium shot of a twentysomething dude who nods pleasantly to the routine whereas, simply behind him, an older Black girl makes an attempt to cowl the eyes of her younger daughter who’s eagerly craning her head to get a greater have a look at what’s occurring on stage. And there’s worth on this juxtaposition, in what it says about being a younger woman, about what it means to be each seen and unseen in your girlhood. There’s worth, too, within the second that comes towards the tip of the dance routine, because the music abruptly fades out and Amy instantly freezes whereas her pals beckon her to proceed dancing. She will’t transfer. Tears start to brim and fall down her cheeks. She rushes off stage. Maybe too pat an ending, the movie closes with Amy leaping rope with a gaggle of ladies her personal age, a return, it appears, to innocence, or on the very least a type of autonomy.

“Our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she is successful,” Maïm

“Our ladies see that the extra a girl is overly sexualized on social media, the extra she is profitable,” Maïmouna Doucouré, proven right here on the Sundance Movie Competition on Jan. 23, defined in a director’s assertion.

Being a Black preteen woman is a minefield of insecurity, discovery and, sure, sexual awakening. This awakening takes place in a panorama the place you’re continually compelled to query your needs and your desirability, a time through which you’re clumsily greedy for methods to really feel bodied in a physique you don’t perceive, a time when messages about what it appears to be like wish to be a “girl” are being continually thrown at you from all instructions. It may be scary, and disturbing and exhilarating unexpectedly. As somebody who has needed to wrestle with the aftermath of sexual trauma, an aftermath that for therefore many survivors usually entails blaming your self and your physique fairly than the adults who sexualize your physique, “Cuties” brings up plenty of questions round what autonomy actually appears to be like like, particularly for probably the most weak and marginalized amongst us. 

There’s a delicate, wonderful line in approaching tales that discover teenage and preteen sexuality with a spirit of honesty versus a spirit of exploitation. Consent is an enormous a part of this, and care ― how a lot had been the younger actresses prepped and allowed to course of what they had been appearing out? The query all the time boils down, in my thoughts, to perspective. I’ve usually considered each the 1962 and 1997 movie diversifications of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” for example, which function underaged actresses within the extremely sexualized title function (Sue Lyon was 14; Dominique Swain was 15). I take into consideration the controversies across the novel and the flicks, the debates, the net romanticization of the Lolita character by teenage ladies on Tumblr and Instagram that focuses extra on her cool garments and her heart-shaped glasses than on the truth that she is a sufferer. I take into consideration how simply nuance may be subsumed by our personal bias. 

I say all this to say: I get why “Cuties” is an excessive amount of for some individuals; I get the will to eliminate it, fake it doesn’t exist. There have been many moments whereas watching the film that I needed to look away. It’s painful, and it’s painful significantly as a result of it’s actual. There are little Amy Diops all around the world, Black ladies with kinky hair and darkish pores and skin and no curves who desperately need to really feel like they belong and are implicitly, step by step made to assume that sexuality is the one forex with which they’ll actually discover belonging, happiness, validation, love. 

“I had the concept for ‘Cuties’ when, sooner or later throughout a neighborhood gathering in Paris, a gaggle of very younger dancers got here on the stage they usually had been dancing like we’re used to seeing in video clips,” Doucouré stated in her director’s assertion. 

“They had been solely 11 years outdated. So I made a decision to spend the following 12 months and a half doing analysis. I met with lots of of preteens who informed me their tales. I wanted to know the way they felt about their very own femininity in right now’s society and the way they handled their self-image at a time when social media is so vital.” 

There’s one thing to be stated for this intentionality. This film is informed firmly from the viewpoint of Amy; it forces the viewer to inhabit what it feels like for a woman at that age to wade into such complicated and treacherous waters. A number of the emotions that come up are joyful, and plenty of of them are horrific. The selection between wanting on blithely or wanting on in horror is on the crux of what, to my thoughts, finally makes this a movie with one thing legitimate and helpful and fascinating to say. 

Every thing is so arbitrary. Not too long ago, Netflix deleted an episode of the British satirical comedy present “Little Britain,” which featured jokes that had been deemed racially insensitive. Critics of “Cuties” identified the incongruity of a film like this: If racially insensitive jokes may be censored on the streamer, absolutely a movie like “Cuties” ought to be as effectively? This act of deleting, erasing and stripping away is tantamount to justice or progress to some individuals. To me, it seems like somebody hurriedly sweeping one thing below the rug. We delete racist jokes from the document, after which what? 

Amid all this rage and all this concern, I ponder how a lot detractors of the movie (lots of whom have clearly not seen it however merely have learn CliffsNotes of what occurs) really care in regards to the younger Black, immigrant, Muslim woman portrayed within the movie and younger Black ladies like her? Their lives, their experiences, their insecurities, their struggles, their joys? Or are they in judgment of those ladies as an alternative? And the way is that this judgment restorative and affirming and tradition shifting? These are questions price asking, and the questions that individuals not often appear to ask, most likely as a result of their concern and their outrage are solely so deep. We’re all responsible of this. 

There are some who would possibly contend that “Cuties,” in its bid to shine gentle on a societal unwell, is merely contributing to it. If “Cuties” ended with the ladies successful the dance competitors and Amy using off into the sundown with the trophy, it could be a lot simpler to dismiss the film’s worth and, extra vital, its intention. As an alternative, the movie ends with Amy not simply seeing however feeling how unhealthy it feels to be objectified, and certainly to objectify your self, while you don’t totally perceive what you’re doing or why.

Finally, in Doucouré’s eyes not less than, “The true query of ′Cuties’ is: Can we as girls actually select who we need to be past the function fashions which are imposed upon us by society?”

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