First of all, let’s begin with the obvious: Netflix did not make “Cuties.” The film is a French film originally called “Mignonnes,” roughly translating to “petites,” or “cuties” in our slang, that premiered at the famed Sundance Film Festival, snagging numerous awards. Netflix is a distributor of the film, created by numerous French studios, so, just so you know where to actually focus your misguided and shortsighted hate.
The film is the coming-of-age story of 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant Amy (played by Fathia Youssouf) in France. She emigrated from Senegal with her mother and brother for a better life, and quickly gets caught in a tug-of-war between her family’s traditional, conservative, African Muslim beliefs and a Western Culture that encourages self-expression and, in some cases, hypersexuality.
Amy befriends a group of bullies, who form an informal dance group called The Cuties and are practicing for a dance competition they want to win. She avoids them at first (as one should when facing the mean girls who throw your homework on the ground and make fun of you for your race) but befriends the informal leader, Jessica (played by Ilanah Cami-Goursolas). That sets off a domino effect culminating in a group friendship.
Amy learns that her father - who has remained in Senegal - has decided to take a second wife. Amy interprets this as a consequence of her own shortfalls, and begins to act out. The Cuties learn their dance for the competition, and Amy significantly contributes to the sexual nature of the dance.
“Cuties” is a full-frontal look at what an adult-centric mass media and pop culture is popularized by children. This directly happens twice in the film: once at the tryouts for the dance competition, and again at the performance itself.
At the tryouts, the kids perform their dance for the judges, a hypersexual display reminiscent of “WAP” (by Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion--or really almost anything by Cardi B. or Megan Thee Stallion--just in case you’ve been living under a rock). The parallel between pop culture for children and for adults is underscored when they leave the room, passing a group of much older girls better *ahem* dressed for the occasion.
The controversy of the film comes in the end, where The Cuties perform their dance publicly, to the repulsion and disgust of the parents in the crowd, because no sensible person actually wants to see an 11-year-old twerk. This scene, however, was taken out of context and now shown to its full entirety. I’ve seen versions where it cuts out before showing the shock of the audience, or even edits around it to only show a prolonged dance scene designed specifically to provoke a certain reaction from social media.
This led to a massive social media uproar, with hashtags like #CancelNetflix stimulating losses in thousands of accounts and over a billion dollars in lost revenue. And for what? Something they didn’t even make.
As a Mass Communications major, it makes sense to me. People interpret media in different ways. For some, they understood the metaphor and made sense of the messaging of the film; the less judicious have reacted with outrage, including East Texas’ own Representative Matt Schaefer, who has vowed to open a child pornography investigation into the film (although, someone should tell him French law doesn’t apply in the United States, just as ours do not apply there).
It made me really think about the content we were producing here at The Patriot Talon. Could people read messaging into it that we didn’t intend? Could some of this story be taken out of context and shown on social media for thousands of people to ridicule? I mean, probably not, I’m not that funny, but it made me think about it.
People get the wrong message sometimes, and we’ve dealt with that. What’s most important is the quality and truthfulness of the message, because the message itself - especially in 2020 - is almost always up for debate.
Overall, it’s a decent film. It drags a bit in the middle, but the messaging is clear: kids are like sponges. What they’re watching, and the environment in which they’re watching it, can make or break them.