You’ll hear plenty of people bemoaning “cancel culture” at the moment. Usually, it’s the people with the most controversial opinion who are so critical of it. All you need to do is look at JK Rowling and see that. Of course, the people who are so vocal about “cancel culture” are also the first people to vow never to use a service again if it goes against their ideas. You know what I’m talking about. The people who threw out their Yorkshire Tea because they don’t agree with racism or set fire to their Nikes when they stood behind Colin Kaepernick. They’ll also be the same people who have cancelled their Netflix subscription after the controversy surrounding one of their latest films. Although, you have to wonder how many have actually watched the feature film debut of writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré. I’d bet all of them have just eaten up what they’ve been told by right wing politicians or the media.
If you haven’t heard of the controversy surrounding Cuties then you should count yourself lucky. In basic terms, Netflix fucked up in the way it tried to market the film. Instead of representing it as the hard-hitting social commentary that it is, somebody decided to try and sell it as a Hollywood dance movie. The poster and description made it seem as though the film was encouraging the sexualisation of young girls. It took a scene towards the end of the film that, out of context, looks dodgy. Why? Because Netflix are shady. They either wanted to create controversy to gain publicity or they didn’t trust their subscribers to watch the film if they knew what it really was.
Far from being some sort of exploitative film, Cuties is criticising the way the modern world sexualises young girls. I can’t imagine how hard it would be growing up in an age of social media and YouTube. Sex is everywhere. I’m all for women embracing their sexuality but there has to be a way to do it that doesn’t have girls trying to mature too quickly. Something that Maïmouna Doucouré also agrees with. There is nothing about cuties that suggests women acting in a sexual way or embracing their bodies is bad. She clearly just worries about what it is doing to young girls.
The film introduces us to 11-year-old Amy, the daughter of Senegalese parents living in one of Paris’ poorest neighbourhoods. She quickly becomes enamoured with four of her classmates who have formed their own dance group. She soon starts to rebel against her strict upbringing and learns the dance moves. Once part of the group, Amy and her new friends start to add more mature and sexual dance moves into their routines. The more likes she gets on social media, the more Amy acts out. Of course, there is never a moment in the film where this behaviour is praised. The audience know that Amy isn’t walking down the right path and her provocative dance moves are meant to upset.
Amy’s behaviour comes from growing up feeling like a second-class citizen. She watches as her mother is humiliated when her father decides to take another wife. Amy hides under the bed and overhears her mother having to call acquaintances to let them know. You see her own resentment that her father is bringing another woman into their home. At every turn, Amy is being told that women need to obey the men in their lives. They need to look after them and respect them. It’s no wonder that the girl is drawn to the type of woman who feels free to embrace herself.
This film is far from the controversial piece that social media warriors are trying to claim it is. Cuties is a powerful and important look at what it means to be a young girl growing up in this time. It’s sensitive and I wish more people would be willing to see it because it raises some interesting points. It’s also a flawed film but this has nothing to do with the subject matter. For one thing, the decision to dub the film is a horrible one and means you lose a lot from the great performances. There are also a few moments and plot points that don’t really go anywhere. It feels kind of messy at times. However, this is a film that should be seen. Not least because the people who are calling for its removal are fighting the same fight as the film itself.