Ben John, the Wilberforce Academy’s Development Officer, comments on Netflix’s new release, ‘Cuties’.
Public outrage has surfaced after Netflix began promoting upcoming French-language film ‘Cuties’ (“Mignonnes” in French). The initial Netflix poster showed a group of 11-year-old girls in skimpy outfits and in sexualised positions and described the film as:
“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
Netflix have since removed the poster and apologised for it and changed the description of the film:
“Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.”
Netflix apologised for the advertisement of the film in a tweet:
“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”
Sexualising children, normalising paedophilia
There has been shock and concern on social media over what has been seen as a film that appears to sexualise children and normalise paedophilia by emphasising ‘sexual empowerment’ at such a young age. A petition to remove the film from Netflix already having over 140 000 signatories.
So why was this movie made?
The movie won a Directing award at this year’s 2020 Sundance Film Festival and has been praised by critics.
Director Maïmouna Doucouré said in an interview she had the idea for the film after she saw “a group of young girls aged around 11 years old, going up on stage and dancing in a very sensual way while wearing very revealing clothes. I was rather shocked and I wondered if they were aware of the image of sexual availability that they were projecting.”
She went on to describe that we need “to understand them, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to take into account the complexity of what they’re living through in society, and all of that in parallel with their childhood which is always there, their imaginary, their innocence.”
And she herself criticises the way that social media sexualises children:
“During my research, I saw that all these young girls I’d met were very exposed on social media. And with new social codes, the ways of presenting yourself change. I saw that some very young girls were followed by 400,000 people on social media and I tried to understand why. There were no particular reasons, besides the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing pictures: that is what had brought them this ‘fame.’ 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. I think it is urgent that we talk about it, that a debate be had on the subject.”
The MTR Network, giving an 8.5/10 rating, described it as a “terrifyingly real portrayal of modern girlhood”, summarising that “Earnest performances from the assemble [sic] cast and Doucouré’s deliberately voyeuristic direction showcases the perils and plights of coming of age in the digital era.”
The Hollywood Reporter explains how it “establishes its critical view of a culture that steers impressionable young girls toward the hypersexualization of their bodies.”
Screen Daily writes: “The sight of twerking pre-teen bodies is explicitly designed to shock mature audiences into a contemplation of today’s destruction of innocence” with there being “outrageous musical montages involving close-up crotch shots of pouting pre-teens”. They comment how “Doucoure seems to want to provoke censure, but fails precisely because she’s trying so hard. Ultimately, that’s the fate that also befalls Amy as she learns the perils of the internet and the limits of the selfie.”
Reinforcing a harmful culture
We should welcome attempts to critique and expose the hypersexualisation of children in today’s culture, particularly highlighting the threats that social media and technology are playing. In a depraved society where criticism of a song about female genitalia apparently “proves society still hates sexually powerful women” and children are being exposed to abhorrent behaviours through events like ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ and encouraged to participate, there is an important and vital conversation to be had about our culture’s desire to be famous and seek approval by any means necessary.
However, the film undermines this purpose by sexualising children itself. Using “deliberately voyeuristic direction” and “close-up crotch shots of pouting pre-teens” is not how to critique the hypersexualisation of children.
It is unacceptable to use children in this way, even if the aim is to expose this harmful reality. We must balance both Ephesians 5:11 and 5:12: expose the darkness, but know there are times when it is shameful even to speak of the things being done, let alone watch them. The ends never justify the means. In attempting to critique the culture, this film will only end up reinforcing it.
As Christians, we must work to keep our children safe. We have a greater message to offer children and families than the pressures and stories of the world – one of hope and forgiveness and identity found in Christ.
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2 ESV