Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ isn’t child exploitation, it’s a depiction of real life
Netflix’s Cuties was an absolute hit at Sundance.
Drama surrounding Netflix’s ‘Cuties’
But shortly after its provocative poster was added to Netflix, writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré was chased off of social media with death threats.
You might’ve heard about the controversial film after seeing a post circulate around social media. The post most likely included the shocking dance competition scene, plucked from the film without any other context (alongside Netflix’s TV-MA rating). Like anyone with good sense, I reposted it, thinking Netflix was normalizing the grooming of young girls.
This crusade against child exploitation caused all corners of the internet to unite against the director and Netflix. But in yet another success for conservatives and their mission of spreading misinformation while shitting on minorities, we’ve all fallen victim. Unsurprisingly, Americans have linked arms in trashing a Black woman, her story, and her art.
While it isn’t necessarily unfounded that Hollywood socialites have links to child sex-trafficking (à la Jeffrey Epstein, and hey, why don’t we throw in international politicians while we’re at it?), Netflix’s Cuties is far from it.
The film is meant to be uncomfortable
The film follows 11-year-old Amy (Aminata), who, like Doucouré, is a Senegalese girl who must navigate a new environment.
This environment is a Western (French) high school, and she struggles to understand puberty, friendships, culture shock, identity, and femininity.
Doucouré has pointed out that she and those who are upset about child exploitation are “on the same team.”
Yes, at times, Netflix’s Cuties is an uncomfortable, emotionally heavy watch – but purposefully so. Shots of the group – they’ve named themselves the C.U.T.I.E.S. – trying to be sexy and having fun are playful, humorous, and pitiable at the same time.
Close-ups on their flat butts are meant to emphasize how they have children’s bodies. It’s all meant for us to feel uncomfortable with the fact that young girls – all over the world – are doing the same thing in the mirror and feeling bad about themselves because they don’t look like Megan Thee Stallion.
We pretend that it’s not normal for children to be curious about sexuality, even though it’s a phase we all went through. The first time I got my period, I was 10 years old. The first time I sent a nude photo, I was only thirteen. Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s one of the many difficult parts of growing up.
Cuties is an important narrative because it is close to home for Black women all over the world. Some people are speaking out about the film and what the internet has gotten wrong about it, like Olatiwa Karade:
The dance competition scene shared countless times omits the part where Amy eventually learns a valuable lesson; one that’s all too familiar to us women.
The film exposes sexual trauma for adolescent women
As a young teenager, I also experienced sexual trauma that I wasn’t ready for. Like Amy, I too had a group of mean friends I wanted to fit in with, and my immigrant mother did not want me to wear makeup or clothes like them.
Not only does the film depict the difficulties of navigating growing up; it highlights this dichotomy that imprisons girls. There are moments when her peers make fun of her for having childlike qualities. And the next day they denigrate her for trying to be more “adult.”
Amy’s actions and experiences highlight her adolescence, purposefully. Behaving like an adult, or, how Amy assumes adults act, takes shape as rebellion or taking agency in making her own choices and pushing back against these binary, opposing pressures.
From spontaneous and impulsive actions that are sometimes violent and end up blowing up in her face. To an unexplainable pool of blood that shows up in her closet. These are all relatable experiences of the stumbling, fumbling transition from childhood into adulthood.
Not all criticism is unwarranted
Some criticism of the film’s depictions still hold weight. Near-nudity and questionable shots raise concern about the fact that these child actors are not old enough to consent.
There are some loose ends that the film does not discuss in depth – for the sake of time, in my opinion – like body image and eating disorders. And victims of child sexual assault have avoided the film to forego triggering re-living their traumatic events.
In the competition scene, you’ll notice the crowd is booing the C.U.T.I.E.S, not supporting them and cheering them on. The truth is, we live in a global culture of pedophilia that tells us that signs of getting old and maturity, like body hair, cellulite, stretch marks and wrinkles are bad, while being youthful, rosy-cheeked, petite and smooth is good.
The larger conversation
It is not only upsetting, but it is a disservice to this film, the young actresses, and Doucouré, to claim this film is solely child exploitation. To an untrained and unthoughtful viewer who sees the film as the world looking in, rather than as little Amy and her friends looking out, children trying to be sexual is disturbing. That is the point of the film.
Of course, the movie has a lot of soft-core pedophile jerk-off material. But perverts exist, and the burden should not fall on women and children to keep them at bay.
That’s like saying there are racists in the world, so people of color should avoid public areas so as not to risk offending them. Anyone who doesn’t see children as sexy will have no problems understanding or viewing this film.
Netflix’s Cuties is a beautifully raw coming-of-age film that will make you laugh and cry. It’s a film everyone can learn from. It is a candid, painful look at what it’s like to literally be Amy. I and many other women know because Amy’s experiences were ours.
Turn your anger inward for being a member of a society that contributes to the culture of normalizing this pedophilia, rather than at the Black woman creator for simply telling her story of being a victim of such a culture.