Why “Cuties” caused such controversy

Since Sept. 9 Netflix has been receiving worldwide backlash concerning the release of the French film, “Cuties,” and many viewers felt that the movie was sexualizing young girls. The writer and director, Maïmouna Doucouré, centered the movie around a Senegalese girl named Amy. Growing up in France with a traditional Muslim upbringing she is struggling between her traditional values and fitting in with internet culture to be the cool girl.

The Times article, “‘This Film Is Sounding an Alarm.’ What Cuties Director Maïmouna Doucouré Wants Critics to Know About Her New Film,” reveals Doucouré’s true intentions of the film, what it is about and rejects the preconceived notions of others. The article elaborates on this in saying, “Doucouré’s personal experiences have deeply informed her art. She grew up in Paris to Senegalese Muslim parents, living with her nine siblings and two mothers in a polygamous family.”

Doucouré goes on to say, “I was trying to recreate the little girl who I was at that age, giving her a voice, and looking at what it means to become a woman.”

Doucouré further discusses how she interviewed several girls about seeing adult material on the internet and being exposed to it and translated these events into the film. 

“There were actually many stories which were so far beyond what you see in the film, and I just did not have the artistic courage to tell those stories on the screen, stories of young girls who are 12 years old and prostituting themselves,” Doucouré explained. “All of these stories just made my blood run cold, and it made me even more determined to make this film, and to speak out about this issue that is so prevalent in today’s society.”

I think the reason this film garnered so much backlash was due to the revealed truth of what young girls are experiencing online.

After watching the film myself I honestly feel that it was a good movie about a girl trying to find herself while balancing her religious and personal life while also struggling with the idea that her father is marrying a second wife. Something introduced early on in the movie is the fact that Amy’s family is Muslim, this however takes a backseat throughout the movie, almost never being discussed. 

The little bit that it does show surrounds the women talking about how “women must be pious … where does evil dwell? In the bodies of uncovered women. We must strive to preserve our decency. We must obey our husbands.” Since there are a number of harmful stereotypes surrounding people who practice Islam, these short snippets of the religion are only furthuring the misunderstanding of this religion. If  Doucouré had spent more time showing the audience how this particular branch of Islam practices, then the audience would have a better understanding and it may have educated the viewers on the nuance of Islam along with those who practice.

The first half of the movie contained scenes where the girls dressed in clothing conventionally inappropriate for an 11-year-old to be wearing — such as mini skirts and crop tops. In the last 40 minutes of the film the audience sees how Amy gets into the dance crew. She performs sexualized dance moves on the ground and on others. The film also had, what I felt, were random dance moments purely focused on the way the girls were moving and putting their hands while also making sexual facial expressions that accompanied the movements. 

I can understand why people are having such an issue with this movie since it is meant to be about 11-years-old girls while the girl who played the main character is 14. This type of casting happens all the time, having an older actor or actress play a younger character but with this type of subject matter. Which is especially problematic since it shows very young girls doing moves that they should not even know about at that age. 

But let’s be honest, the sexualization of young girls has been going on for years. With shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras,” which aired from 2009-2016 on TLC — a show primarily about girls aged newborn to five. The parents of these children would dress them up to look like miniature adults and, in some episodes, consist of dance routines riddled with sexual implications. 

In reality, the sexualization of young girls has been going on for years but this movie in particular faced severe backlash due to the recent #SaveOurChildren trend online. 

But is there something about this movie inherently different from TV shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras?”

Did parts of the film make me uncomfortable at times? Yes. But, I think that was Doucouré’s point. To convey that some girls are actually doing these things and that is why they are in danger. People are in such denial about this topic and instead of being open, are trying to shut something down that is working to bring the issue to light. 

Can we go back to when young girls were worried about getting the next big toy on the market? Or, not to be worried about learning the next big, sexy dance move to win awards? Children should not be pressured and eager to grow up too soon.