According to an article in the NEW YORK TIMES, the French film CUTIES is so offensive to the delicate sensibilities and morality of some in the Congressional leadership, that several members have demanded Netflix remove it from their selection or else risk an investigation from the Justice Department. Worse, Netflix has now been indicted by a grand jury in Texas for promoting the lewd depiction of children and that the material has no serious “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Why has this film provoked such outrage? Are criminal charges even remotely appropriate for the manner in which the tweens are depicted? Despite the allegations in the indictment, CUTIES does, in fact, have serious artistic value, serving as a condemnation of the premature sexualization of young females, a troubling reality accelerated by social media. It’s a shame CUTIES has been so unfairly vilified because it’s a remarkably sympathetic, honest and compelling portrayal of adolescent girls-unlike any other we’ve seen to date.
CUTIES is centered around a group of eleven year old girls who revel in posting images of their dance troupe on social media as they “twerk” and beyond in suggestive ways. The lead character, Amy, is a sympathetic youngster, trying to navigate life as the daughter of immigrants from Senegal in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris. Her family are strict, observant Muslims who embrace their religion’s more conservative values and traditions (there are less restrictive versions). Amy regularly attends gender-segregated religious services while clothed in modest traditional Islamic clothing. She and her mother must also contend with the fallout of the abandonment of Amy’s father, who has now taken on another wife. Amy only learns about this when she overhears her mother tell another, “My husband has married another woman. May He grant them many children.”
Growing up in a Western country, Amy feels alienated from her family’s customs and practices, longing to find a measure of acceptance, which she does when she falls in with a group of peers at her school. A precocious crowd, they are rebellious and crave independence, which they exert by co-opting the behavior of women posing and dancing provocatively in videos on social media. This window into womanhood gives them a distorted sense of femininity that leads them to a hypersexualization of their wardrobes and dance moves without the benefit of context. In keeping up with the media age, they film the routines and then post their videos online.
It’s these dance routines which have generated the controversy and terrible press for the film, featuring the girls grinding, gyrating, twerking, sticking their fingers in their mouth, and otherwise dancing in a manner many viewers will find shocking and disturbing. But that’s precisely the point. We should feel shocked and disturbed because these are the very images that inundate the lives of young people in a world driven by social media.
Amy and her dance crew aren’t seeking sex but rather self-worth and acceptance, something they’ve been taught to believe comes from sex appeal and desirability, and as such, imitate what they believe is expected of them. But when Amy goes too far and her behavior backfires on her, she feels more lost than ever. At this point, Amy’s mother asks, “Who are you, Amy?” But the movie asks a far more poignant question: who are we as a society subjecting each new generation of females to the same old Madonna/Whore complex dating back to biblical times?
In an interview with OKAY AFRICA, French-Senegalese filmmaker Maimouna Doucource states, “A lot of people thought that I was promoting the hypersexualization of children and it’s the exact opposite of my work. She goes on to explain, “CUTIES is really inspired by my own story and I actually gave voice to the little girl that I was at that age. I was often torn between my own culture, my parents, Senegalese culture…as well as my own Western culture and that question on how to become a woman in our society was my obsession.” This seems to be a question that obsesses may females including the young girls of this film. And despite the ugly accusations leveled at this film, it deserves to be seen by an audience who care about these issues.
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