The Complexities of the “Cuties” Controversy

Norah Hussaini and Malvika Pradhan

On Sept. 9, 2020, the movie “Cuties” was released on Netflix. In under an hour, there were already sparks of outrage and demands for Netflix to take it down due to alleged blatant exploitation of minors.

The movie, directed by French director Maïmouna Doucouré, shows the journey of an eleven-year-old girl, Amy, as she tries to rebel against her conservative Muslim family and fit in at school. Amy joins a dance troupe with other girls her age called “The Cuties”, who perform very adult dances. These explicit dances performed by the young girls are the cause for the controversy. 

Republican senators including Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Tom Cotton have asked Attorney General William Barr to prosecute Netflix for allowing the movie to be released in the U.S., arguing that it qualifies as child pornography. Rep. Matt Schaefer tweeted, “I have asked Texas Attorney General Paxton’s office to investigate the @netflix film ‘Cuties’ for possible violations of child exploitation and child pornography laws.” In a statement released by Netflix, the streaming platform defended itself by saying the film is “social commentary against the sexualization of young children.” 

Over the past few weeks, the movie has gathered thousands of one star reviews. One of them was written by Rotten Tomatoes film critic Tania Lamb. 

“Do I think Cuties was made for pedophiles?” Lamb said. “No. I think it was made for parents and society, but in an erroneous way that missed the mark.”  

Despite her negative remarks, Lamb does not think the TV-MA rating was the problem even though some people found it inappropriate because of the fact that the girls in the movie are sexualized at such a young age.

“The intended audience was for adults,” Lamb said. “It’s hard to say, you know that’s kind of why I do the reviews that I do because my job is to put the information out there. What can you expect when you watch this movie and then it’s up to parents to decide for their own families whether this is something that’s appropriate for them.”

Chloe Orta, a freshman who is in LASA’s dance class, agrees with Lamb. In addition, though, Orta says the negative portrayal of the young girls in “Cuties” can serve as an effective example of what not to do.

“I feel like if young girls watched it, some of them might be influenced by that and want to start dancing like that, but I think it also teaches some of them to stay away from that,” Orta said. “So, I think it’s good for them to see.”

Netflix was also criticized for the way they advertised and promoted the movie. The now-deleted film poster that preceded the movie’s release on Netflix was different from the original version that was released at the movie’s premiere in France. The French version depicts young girls waving shopping bags around while skipping down a street, while the American version shows young girls in crop tops and booty shorts in sexual positions.

“Netflix was definitely in the wrong for the way that they marketed Cuties,” Lamb said. “That was their big mistake and that’s on them. I thought about why they would choose to do that, but then I think about the way society values this sexual way of dancing or sexual poses in pictures and those are the ones that get the most likes. So Netflix in their own erroneous way of thinking probably thought ‘Okay well society and the algorithm is telling me that people want to watch this kind of stuff, they want it to be sexual so this is why we’re going to market it like this.’” 

Lamb noticed that some of the dances featured in the movie are similar to dances on the app Tik Tok. Many of the popular creators on the app have younger people who follow them, and who could easily be influenced by the dances.

“As far as the messaging is concerned I think parents, if you’re okay with your kids doing those types of dances on Tik Tok, great, more power to you, that’s your prerogative,” Lamb said. “If you’re not, then pay attention, get on the platforms, see what’s going on because those same things are happening right in front of your eyes and you just can’t ignore it.” 

Orta agrees that some dances can get out of hand and become inappropriate. Many of them feature things that parents would not approve of or be comfortable seeing.

Tik Tok dances, some of them are fun, but a lot of them are inappropriate for young girls,” Orta said. “ I think Tik Tok does sort of promote dances like that. Especially if big creators do them and a lot of their following are little girls, so I think that that could promote bad things.” 

In a recently conducted Google Forms survey, it was revealed that 77.5% of the 110 surveyed LASA students think “Cuties” should be taken down. Lamb, however, does not stand with them.

“No, I don’t think Netflix is in the wrong for having this movie on their platform especially since they’ve rated it TV-MA and there are plenty of things on Netflix, on Hulu, on HBO with a ton more nudity,” Lamb said. 

Orta seconds Lamb’s opinion and values the film’s efforts to try to accurately reflect the ways in which society sexualizes young girls and how it affects them.

I personally don’t think it should be removed,” Orta said. “I can see why people do think that, but I think that [this] is the reality for young girls that get sexualized by older people or feel the need to sexualize themselves. I think that that’s something kids go through. I think it’s raw, not sugar coated.”

Supporters of the film say that the negative reviews are from people who haven’t seen the movie, and are judging it based on Netflix’s marketing. The marketing referred to by the supporters was replaced by the French poster of happy girls skipping, which reviewers thought was much more appropriate. 

From what I heard, it was an award-winning independent film that got an unfortunate rebranding on it’s journey to Netflix, and Netflix itself really screwed up the message of the movie with the inappropriate branding and marketing” wrote one anonymous freshman on the Google Forms survey.

A petition to remove the movie from Netflix has garnered over 400,000 supporters. One of those supporters wrote “Netflix needs to understand, this is blatant support of pedophilia and is grooming in its most disgusting form. The tones of islamophobia and child predation is unacceptable. This show is a disgrace to humanity and should not air.”