The Wilberforce Academy’s Ben John follows up on the release of Netflix’s new film, ‘Cuties’.
I wrote back in August how the Netflix film ‘Cuties’ undermines its message by sexualising children. This was after a promotional poster for the film was released showing 11-year-old girls in skimpy outfits and in sexualised positions. Reviews for the film, which was lauded at the Sundance Film Festival, are overwhelmingly positive, but at the time had commented on the “deliberately voyeuristic direction” and “outrageous musical montages involving close-up crotch shots of pouting pre-teens”.
The movie has now been released. A clip of the closing finale where the group of 11-year-old girls perform a dance routine has since been circulating on social media showing the girls dancing suggestively and erotically and with minimal clothing. The camera does not look away.
The clip is far worse than the poster that first caused the uproar. #CancelNetflix has been trending on Twitter with many cancelling their accounts in opposition to Netflix showing the film.
This whole saga is a sad story of a misguided, yet well-intentioned, director doing far more damage than she seems to be aware of. The director, Maïmouna Doucouré, has been open about how this film is a critique of the way that social media impacts and affects impressionable young children, causing them to think that “Today, the sexier and the more objectified a woman is, the more value she has in the eyes of social media. And when you’re 11, you don’t really understand all these mechanisms, but you tend to mimic, to do the same thing as others in order to get a similar result”. Rolling Stone describes it as “a portrait of girls that decries how sexuality is force-fed to them and/or viewed as the only way to foster self-esteem at far too young an age.”
We should be glad that a mainstream director is identifying and addressing this, but that does not give her free licence to attempt to critique this by any means necessary. You do not critique the sexualising of children by sexualising children.
The Telegraph might accuse us of stirring a “moral panic” and being “Mary-Whitehouse-esque”, Rolling Stone might say we are just trying to fight a right-wing culture war, but so what? We should want to protect children and keep them safe. I might myself have been championing this film as important had it not gone to the lengths that it did. Whatever happened to clever editing and camera shots? What is seen in the film is unacceptable and unnecessary.
Do I think this film ‘promotes paedophilia’? No. Though I am sure paedophiles won’t object to the film.
Do I think this film ‘promotes the sexualisation of children’? Not deliberately, but in an effort to shock audiences and make them feel uncomfortable we can end up normalising what is being seen.
Let’s not make the mistake ourselves
And we should not make the same mistake ourselves. We will not link to the clip that is circulating on social media. Will that cost us clicks? Almost certainly.
If we share and post that now to say “look how bad this is” we are doing exactly what the makers of the movie are doing. It is the same rationale. They have made a film intending to expose the tragic reality of the sexualisation of children, but have done so by sexualising children. We cannot now say we are exposing the sexualisation of children by spreading images and videos of sexualised children as far and wide as possible. Exposing does not always mean making it seen. We perpetuate the injustice committed against these children by continuing to share it. They should never have been asked, and certainly should never have been filmed, doing what they did.
This does not mean that imagery is never acceptable in exposing an injustice; there is huge precedent for example in exposing racism and abortion by showing their reality, but this is different due to the very visual nature of the issue here. The imagery itself is the problem. What would you do if it were your child or grandchild? By posting and sharing the content in an attempt to expose we will end up taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11).
So, what can we do?
Firstly, we should be praying for the culture we are in. The sexualisation of children in society is a very real problem. In its review, the Telegraph – historically a conservative newspaper – labelled the film’s opponents as “terrified of child sexuality” as if that’s a bad thing! We must be praying that there will be a change, that children will not be influenced and swayed by what they see on TV and social media.
Secondly, know what is happening. This does not mean watching and sharing everything that is out there, but it means not being naïve about the influences that are. Do you know what is on social media? Do you know what is being taught at school through sex education? Parents have taken a back seat in the discipleship of their children that they do not know much, if any, of what their children are consuming. We are called to “train up a child in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Finally, maybe if you are a Netflix customer you may want to write to them and complain. Perhaps you could ask that the filmmakers edit the film? These can be effective ways to highlight your objections to the film and perhaps to be constructive. Christians in particular should not be overly inflammatory about the film; we should acknowledge the reality of what the film was trying to achieve.
Sadly, the director of the film has received death threats. That is definitely not how we should respond. We must be loving and gentle, yet firm, in how we speak out. As Christians we have more to offer than to just be loud and to shout, we have a greater message of hope, forgiveness and holiness found in Jesus Christ alone, who came to die for us, paying the penalty for our sin.