Netflix's 'Cuties' is Not Child Porn and Here's Why

The French coming-of-age comedy-drama film Mignonnes or 'Cuties' has come under fire after Netflix uploaded a sexualised picture of the 11-year-old characters of the film to promote it.


An image of the film 'Cuties'

#CancelNetflix started trending on Twitter after Netflix when the movie 'Mignonnes' or Cuties was marketed using a picture that featured its child stars making suggestive dance poses in revealing outfits before its September 9 release, provoking parents to call for it to be taken down as content promoting paedophilia.


More than 610,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding Netflix subscribers cancel their subscriptions to protest the company’s decision to stream the film beginning Sept. 9


Despite the public outcry, the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Award-winning debut direction of French-Senegalese Maïmouna Doucouré remains on Netflix and ironically talks about the sexualisation of young girls, particularly girls of colour who struggle with their teenage identity,


The film follows an 11-year-old immigrant girl Amy (Fathia Youssouf) who lives in one of Paris' poorest neighbourhoods with her mother Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) and two younger brothers. Ten minutes into the film and you realise the kind of environment that Amy has grown up in, with older women all around her constantly talking about what it means to be a good woman, and calling promiscuity or any expression of sexual freedom a sin. This idea of sin itself is something that runs throughout the film, displaying the painful differences between men and women in their culture. While Amy and her mother are forbidden from any outward expression of sexuality, Amy's father's second marriage is celebrated, and Mariam is forced to hide how deeply hurt she is by his actions.


Doucouré, who previously directed the critically-acclaimed short film Mamman(s), recreates a scene from the previous work, as Amy hides under her mother's bed and listens to her mother sob and repeatedly slap herself for her tears upon hearing that her husband would be taking a second wife - a scene that Doucouré attributes to her own experiences with polygamy. Combined with frames that emphasise on the cramped household and the cornered feeling that Amy often experiences at home, the film beautifully depicts the effects of poverty and emotional repression without ever quite addressing them blatantly.


When Amy meets Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), who along with her troupe of girls 'The Mignones' or 'The Cuties', wears crop tops and tight shorts, irons her hair, swears unapologetically and dances publicly, she is fascinated by what she sees as liberated women. Amy is fascinated by Angelica, Coumba (Esther Gohourou), Jess (Ilanah Cami-Goursolas), and Yasmine (Myriam Hamma) who cry out 'Freedom!', talk about dating boys, and openly have conversations about sex - practices that are entirely opposite to Amy's repressive cultural upbringing. Amy, as someone who has had to take care of both of her younger siblings, was always told to act adult and not burden her mother, and yet when she meets the Cuties, she decides that they understand what it means to be adults.


The director's decision to keep all these girls as 11-year-olds is perfect for a film that shows how these girls are too old to consider themselves children, and yet too young to be publicly regarded as adults. They constantly seek validation of their 'adulthood' and even imitate 14-year-old dancers by dressing like them and acting like them. Other than Mariam, there are barely any other parents depicted in these films, and even Angelica tells Amy how her parents are always too busy with work to watch her dance, and how she wants to make them proud with her performance.


Make no mistake here, Doucouré does not paint these girls as saviours or flagbearers of a liberal society. In fact, she emphasises on their immaturity and at times toxic nature to draw a grim contrast between the children they are and the adults they want to be seen as. The gap left by the lack of conversation with women in the film is filled by social media, the need for public approval, and easily accessible content on the internet that is just plainly not meant for children. This is particularly shown when Amy, who secretly winds up watching stripper videos instead of dance videos, is influenced by their body movements, that she goes on to teach the other girls.


The illusion of freedom that she experiences with these girls, contrasted with her auntie who recounts her child marriage after Amy gets her first period, confuse Amy about who she is, who she wants to be, and what it actually means to be 'adult or mature'.


The movie is a beautiful venture into the search for self-identity amidst all the clutter, and how vulnerable young girls of colour are to sexualisation. Various male figures throughout the film comment about the girls' looks, with a security guard visibly pleased as Amy twerks for him to prove that they are dancers. The innocence of the girls is always maintained and explored as they copy raunchy moves that they do not understand the meaning of. The major focus of the outrage has been a minute and a half clip from the 95-minute long film, which shows their performance at a dance competition where they display promiscuous moves, much to the disgust of the parents in the audience. However, that clip is incomplete as it becomes a pivotal moment towards furthering Amy's understanding of herself. The final close-up shot of a smiling Amy almost floating like a dream is probably the image that the audience should leave with, because for the first time, Amy does not look scared or confused.


The casting has been absolutely excellent in this film. Fathia Youssouf and Médina El Aidi-Azouni light up every frame, and Maïmouna Gueye is nothing short of brilliant in her depiction of the caring but ever-busy mother that constantly battles suppressed grief over her husband's polygamy. The film is a portrait of the sexualisation of children, the harm inflicted by unfettered social media and internet access, the journey of self-identification that girls go through to identify their roles in their world, and the pressure that falls upon girls of colour to be adult, but children.

0 comments