A French film by director Maïmouna Doucouré, “Cuties” was the subject of controversy even before it landed on Netflix last week.
The streaming platform previewed it with a poster of tweenage girls in scant costumes, accompanied with the synopsis, “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew.”.
Cruz, who either didn’t see the movie or didn’t understand it, claimed the film “routinely fetishizes and sexualizes these pre-adolescent girls,” and called on the Department of Justice to “investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”.
Like Doucouré, Amy is the daughter of Senegalese immigrants.
Their culture permits polygamy, and when the movie opens Amy’s father has recently traveled back to Senegal to bring home a second wife.
These are the kind of nuanced discussions that art is meant to encourage — and that fast-twitch social media has squashed.
Amy fumbles and falters her way through the film, learning that she’s meant to be appealing but chaste, naughty but good, a girl but a woman.
Part of why I think people are struggling with this movie is that, while it doesn’t sexualize tweenage girls, it is a frank look at their exploration of sexuality: the influences they respond to or rebel against, the power they think they have, the things they think they understand.
“Spend an hour on social media and you’ll see preteens — often in makeup — pouting their lips and strutting their stuff as if they were grown women,” wrote Doucouré, the film’s director, in a recent essay for The Washington Post.
In one scene the girls, full of bravado and giggles, flirt with a boy at the bus stop.
That film is explicitly about pedophilia, but it’s a more comfortable viewing, in some ways, than “Cuties.” It allows the viewer to falsely believe that girls are complicit in their own sexualization, that they’re inviting the leering and harassment.
The fact that its critics (not film critics, who love it) find “Cuties” so terrifying is, perhaps, the biggest clue that they need to watch it and then demand more movies like it?
The girls they know, the girls they were.
The bubbles we try to keep girls in, when the only people we’re actually protecting are ourselves.
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