Cuties: Why this Movie Succeeded at Failing

I watched the movie Cuties this past week and I have a couple of thoughts on it, just like the rest of the world it seems like. I’ll start with a brief background on the movie and Director and then get into what I thought of the movie.

Cuties was released in France in August 2020 and in the United Stated in September 2020. It is a French coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Award and is critically acclaimed! (emphasis on the critically). I should also mention the screenplay for Cuties won the Sundance Global Filmmaking Award back in 2017. The film is centered around 11 year-old Amy, a Senegalese-French pre-adolescent who is caught between her Senegalese culture and her life in France. She joins a group of young dancers who attend her school, after being bullied by them and trying to gain their approval. She introduces new, sexually explicit « dance moves » to the group after being influenced by music videos she sneaks around and watches on a phone she stole from her visiting cousin. This abrupt summary by no means does the movie justice. I just wanted to paint a quick picture of what the hell is going on here.

Now, a little bit about the director: Maïmouna Doucouré. As I mentioned above, she is a French-Senegalese film director and screenwriter living in France, where she was born in 1985. She had a successful experience with her film Maman(s), which premiered in 2015 and won Cesar Award in 2017. Cuties is her directional debut and let’s just say her name is becoming a household one. Her goals of female empowerment and embracing femininity are the underpinnings of her movies Maman(s) and Cuties. She delivered an emotional speech at the Sundance Film Festival upon winning, stating “ladies, just believe and we will become.”

Maimouna Doucoure speaks onstage during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards Night Ceremony at Basin Recreation Field House on February 01, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Now, let’s take a look at the Netflix poster, right, that got everyone talking (which is different from the poster used in France, left).

See the source image

When Netflix started advertising for the film, released on September 9th, people were up in arms about the “pedobait” aspects of the trailer and poster. Petitions started coming from every angle, demanding the film be taken down from Netflix. When the film finally aired, the uproar exacerbated. The film garnered anger, disgust, and concern – to the point where Doucouré started receiving death threats! Death threats are unacceptable and hyperbolic. That being said, this post isn’t as much about Sundance or the success this movie’s gotten as it is about the missed mark on this film.

When I was watching this film, my jaw was on the floor half the time. I am not a prude. If you’ve read up on my blog stories, you’ll see that I am very open-minded and progressive in many ways. But this film definitely has a shock factor that is bound to keep you interested. It’s a different type of interested though – it’s cringe-y. You want to keep watching but you feel UNCOMFORTABLE. It’s disturbing. It’s shocking. It’s flagrant! And I believe that’s exactly what Doucouré wanted us to feel throughout, to get us thinking.

I watched it a second time before writing this piece. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And here’s what I really think.

I feel like the film fell short. There are so many other themes that this film touches on. Immigration. Polygamy. Living in the projects. The influence of the media on today’s youth. Parent-children relationships. Importance of communication. Peer pressure. Sex Education. Generational perspective. Intersectionality of all of those things for a pre-teen that is trying to figure themselves/life out! I could go on and on about all the themes this film touches on and that’s exactly my point in this article. We are not talking about all of those things. We’re caught up on just one theme: the hyper-sexualization of young girls. This is a very important topic and should 100% be discussed. But the conversation is so much more nuanced than current conversations are letting on and I fervently believe Doucouré wanted us to have a complex discussion about it, not just a one-layered conversation or finger pointing.

Doucouré has said that Cuties pulls from her own experiences as a young, Black immigrant in Paris – paralleling her journey to that of the film’s protagonist, Amy. During her Sundance speech, Doucouré describes how a man made a comment after seeing her film Maman(s), stating that he was shocked a woman produced that movie. Doucouré emphasizes that it is a woman’s very femininity that allows her to be so powerful. The coming-of-age experience Amy goes through in the film touches on the theme of femininity and how it is influenced by her surroundings and the media. With Amy’s case, we see just how detrimental social media can be to a young girl’s development and that’s what Doucouré wanted us to talk about (in my humble opinion).

With the sexual dance moves in close range, I personally think the film focused on the wrong things. It gave us too much at once and left us wondering. I don’t buy into the “this film encourages pedophiles” mantra because pedophiles are sick in the head and we cannot put the blame or responsibility on anybody else. They need to get help for the illness they are dealing with. Point blank. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that American producer, writer, and director Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of Sundance, was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to six years to life in prison in 2019. This just adds fuel to the fire and people are using it as ammo for the pedophile argument. But BUT, this film was not made for the viewing pleasures of pedophiles with a Netflix account. It was made to give us a reality check, a wake up call, to what is happening to young girls around the world. This movie is a warning call to all parents to check themselves on the following: (1) you can’t raise your kids the way you were raised. (Un)fortunately, times have changed so it’s time to adapt. And (2) communicating with your children is important, more than ever! You have to be a vital part of your children’s development because the outside sure it.

The sex trafficking of young girls a major concern worldwide. The hyper-sexualization of young girls is rampant. The negative influence of social media is a cause of concern for every parent, every big sister, every big brother. Because this film touched on those things, I would give it a 10/10 for intent. But because all people seem to talk about is the obscene dance moves, I am inclined to say the movie failed on execution. 4/10.

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