Written by Melissa Henson | Published September 10, 2020
In August, Social Media went crazy over the artwork Netflix was using to promote "Cuties," a new film they announced they would be adding to their platform in September.
The poster depicted a group of pre-pubescent girls wearing short-shorts and midriff-baring tops, striking suggestive poses. After significant pushback, Netflix changed the cover art, admitting it was a mistake to use that image.
Netflix's defenders came out in full-force, telling Americans they were wrong to be offended. The poster, they said, was in poor judgment, but in no way reflected the content of the film.
No, the content is actually worse than the original poster suggests.
And by removing the offensive poster and replacing it with a more innocuous one, Netflix might actually have made the situation worse by suggesting that Cuties is nothing more than a cute, coming-of-age movie.
Although the film tackles an important topic – one that under different circumstances we might even applaud – it’s the WAY the film goes about it that’s problematic.
“Cuties” follows 11-year-old Amy, the daughter of devout Senagalese Muslims, who has just moved to France with her mother and two younger brothers. Amy is torn between a desire to fit-in with the sexualized western popular culture embraced by her peers, and her traditional, conservative upbringing; between a culture that she feels empowers women and a culture that treats women as second-class citizens.
But Amy takes her embrace of sexualized western culture too far – she hungrily seeks out examples of sexualized dancing and behavior to emulate so she can fit in. She learns how to “twerk” – a dance move that originated in strip clubs before making its way to night clubs – from watching music videos, and teaches these strip club dance moves to her friends.
When the girls are teased by older boys for being little kids, Amy takes a photo of her genital area and posts it online to prove that she’s no child.
But this proves to be too much for her friends, who like to talk a big game and dress provocatively, but are still innocent in many ways. Amy is “slut-shamed” and rejected by her new friends, but she also no longer feels she belongs in the conservative Muslim community in which she was raised.
This film could have been a powerful rebuke of popular culture that sexualizes children and robs them of their innocence. But these young actresses were sexualized in the making of this movie.
In addition to being coached and trained in highly sexualized dance routines, these girls use foul, vulgar language like “f*ck,” “b*tch,” and “t*ts.” They are made to wear revealing clothing.
Amy is shown pulling her pants and underpants down so she can photograph her genitals. In another scene Amy attempts to seduce a grown man – a family member, no less -- to get out of trouble for stealing his cell phone.
This child actress, in a scene with a grown man, removes her jacket and begins to remove her pants before being pushed away. These girls are shown thrusting their pelvises to simulate sex, and “humping” the floor.
And NONE of this was necessary to show to critique the sexualization of children.
Although there is a danger that little girls will be attracted to this film – the far greater risk is the way this film normalizes the sexualization of little girls.
Netflix and its board of directors are getting rich off of this kind of content. Worse, they are desensitizing millions of viewers at home by asking them to be entertained by it.