Netflix (NFLX) is facing online backlash for what has been perceived as the sexualization of young preteen girls in the marketing for its new French film Cuties.
The movie, titled Mignonnes in native France, revolves around 11-year-old Senegal immigrant Amy, who lives with her mother Mariam in one of Paris’ poorest neighborhoods along with her two younger brothers as they all await their father’s arrival from Senegal. Her life changes when she becomes friends with her rowdy neighbor Angelica and intrigued by her free spirited dance crew called the Cuties, a hip-hop troupe. While Mariam sees this in opposition to her traditional values, Amy sees it as an exciting new passion. Cuties premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, claiming the Directing Jury Award and earning an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré told Cineuropa this summer that she first thought of the concept when she was at a neighborhood party and a group of young girls were on stage “dancing in a very sensual way while wearing very revealing clothes.” The filmmaker was “shocked” and wondered “if they were aware of the image of sexual availability that they were projecting.”
Later in the interview, Doucouré added: “this isn’t a health & safety ad. This is most of all an uncompromising portrait of an 11-year-old girl plunged in a world that imposes a series of dictates on her. It was very important not to judge these girls, but most of all 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.”
The filmmaker specifically wanted to denounce the impact of social media on girls at this age, particularly how exposed and objectified young children can be. When accepting her award at Sundance, Doucouré made an impassioned speech about the place of women in society and diversity in the film industry.
But the difference in marketing between the film’s French promotional materials and Netflix’s has struck a nerve online. Some users have noted the differences between how the French poster and the American poster depict the girls. The original French poster shows them in a wide shot walking together on a cobblestone street, whereas the American promo image features them posed in skin-baring dance outfits. Moderators of the online message board 4chan have prohibited posting imagery from the film, saying users who do so would “receive permanent bans.”
its interesting to compare the french version of the cuties poster to the american version…
like the French version has more "kids having fun!" vibes, while the American version is just fucking…. gross.
I feel like the #Netflix marketing team has a lot to answer for. pic.twitter.com/c8QrX0EY75
— kitti (@yeetdere) August 20, 2020
The thing about the Netflix campaign for Cuties is how disgustingly sexualized these girls are. Compare the poster and blurb from Netflix versus the ones on IMDb, shit is as different as night and day.
Someone should get fired. pic.twitter.com/XrAL7njMBN
— Weekend Warrior (@wwarrior_1) August 20, 2020
Welcome to 2020 where somehow 4chan has higher moral standards than a multi billion dollar company. pic.twitter.com/jCQqzeo0Ca
— Cable (@HomoIndicus) August 20, 2020
In a statement to Metro.co.uk, Netflix said: “This was not an accurate representation of the film so the image and description has been updated.” A Change.org petition with more than 27,000 signatures as of this writing calls for Netflix to remove Cuties because it “promotes child pornography.”
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.
— Netflix (@netflix) August 20, 2020
Netflix’s promotional poster, which features the young girls striking dance poses in shorts and crop tops, has been the main point of backlash. Even the streaming service’s on-site plot description, which has since been changed, varies from the traditional film synopsis. The original read: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
Following the immediate negative response, the controversial promo image is nowhere to be found on Netflix’s site while the movie overview has been edited to: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” As of Wednesday night, the site still described it as a “twerking dance crew.”
What hell are we living in now?
Children are being hypersexualization by @netflix, a major streaming service.
This is reprehensible. pic.twitter.com/urm626vt8L
— Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) August 20, 2020
Netflix’s “Cuties” (Sept. 9) is advertised as a “coming of age tale.” The problem is, the little girls being sexualized in this film are 11-years-old.
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) August 20, 2020
Cuties will arrive on Netflix September 9.