Netflix 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.”
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.”
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.”
Cuties will arrive on Netflix September 9.