From a barely heard about movie to one of the most talked-about of the year, Cuties has been dividing people left and right.
Before the start of September, if you asked anyone if they have heard of the movie Cuties, they would most likely have said no. Cuties, originally called Mignonnes, is a French movie from first-time feature film director Maiimouna Doucoure. Originally premiering in Sundance 2020, the film was met with positive reviews and even won a directing award at the festival. The movie was eventually bought by Netflix to be shown globally on the streaming site. It looked like the movie was destined for an under-the-radar release, but that all changed when Netflix dropped a promotional poster for the movie, which caused the internet to figuratively explode. The visual showed four scantily clad young girls in suggestive poses. The backlash was swift with people accusing Netflix of sexualizing young girls and promoting pedophilia. The poster was replaced and even the title was changed from Cuties to its original title of Mignonnes.
Now, the movie was just recently released on Netflix and has become one of the most controversial and divisive movies of the year so far. A lot of things have been said about this film from all sides, so we decided to watch this movie for ourselves to see how it really shapes up.
Cuties follows Amy, an 11-year-old black Muslim girl living in the suburbs of Paris. Her family is originally from Senegal and she lives in a conservative household that values tradition. One day, Amy encounters a group of girls dancing as part of a dance group which catches Amy’s eye. She decides to join the dance group, the cuties, which exposes her to her developing femininity but upsets her mother and the values they hold.
Premise-wise, the movie has a good build-up. The movie is partially based on the director’s childhood growing up as a Senegalese immigrant in Paris during the ’80s. The struggle between wanting to be yourself and following the traditions that your family holds sacred is something that quite a few young people can relate to. It is established early on that Amy is not a fan of her family’s more conservative ideals and she sees the dance group and the friends she makes as an escape and way to discover herself. As the movie progresses, you get to see Amy change as a person, from being shy and conservative, to becoming confident and dressing boldly.
The problem is that the film doesn’t fully commit to this premise. Especially near the end, the movie falls short and is just going through the motions, not really giving any meaning behind the character’s actions.
The movie is meant to be a realistic film of how children are exposed to all sorts of content on social media, but it only gives a surface level discussion. At times, you get emotional conflict that drives Amy’s story and her character, others, you get scenes that are more for shock value than anything else. In terms of the most controversial aspect of Cuties, the dancing and sexiness can go overboard. The outfits that these 11-year old girls wear is quite surprising. From cropped tops, tight pants, and short shorts, no matter where you see it, these are still 11-year-old actresses behind the characters.
Their routine consists of things like twerking, shaking their ass, seductively posing, and the like. There’s even a point where one of the group’s members insults Amy for having a flat butt and chest. The final routine honestly feels like they’re doing the WAP dance challenge. This is supposed to be Amy’s awakening but the movie treats it more like it’s just for the plot rather than personal discovery and growth.
While the movie is meant to be a social commentary on the commodification and sexualization of women, focusing that on young girls is what makes this film hard to watch. You get to see how society does pressure Amy to act in a certain way and these girls feel that they need to dance sexily so that they can one up their competition in the dance contest who do the same thing.
It’s not a comfortable viewing because it doesn’t shy away from showing everything. While the director may have purposely made it that way, there could have been better ways to be respectful about it, without the sexual exploitation of underage girls. Not everyone will agree with what happens in the movie, but it would have been so much better if the emotional core of the story was given a little
On the technical side, the movie is fine. It’s not an unwatchable mess, but it doesn’t really break the mold in any way. There is definitely an energy Doucoure brings to the screen with the girls and the movie has a great final shot. Though the English dubbing of the movie hurts it more than it helps, the dubbing at times can get awkward and not in sync with what is happening on the screen. Perhaps if the original French dialogue was kept, it would make the film feel more authentic.
Overall, does the movie deserve all the hate it is getting? That’s up to you. Looking past the controversy, you have a coming-of-age story about a young girl trying to balance the values of her cultural upbringing with the passions of her conflicting individuality and journey of growth and self- discovering. But the way the film tries to critique sex and gender in the modern age by lewdly portraying kids did not work effectively.
While art is meant to disturb, the message that the movie is trying to give doesn’t always come out successfully, especially knowing that there are actual pedophilias out there who could be enjoying this. Sexuality and the role that plays in the growth of a young woman is an interesting topic for any movie to tackle and it’s admirable for the way Cuties tried to do so, but in the end, the more emotional and personal sides get overshadowed by the more explosive scenes.