Is the Outrage at the Film “Cuties” Valid?

Or are our knee-jerk opinions wrong?

For the record, I have not viewed the movie. I am relying on the information of two young people and media reports on the point of the movie.

The film “Cuties” have stirred up outrage in American society. Currently streamed on Netflix, the film and Netflix are being vilified. Is this vilification just, or is ignorance (as in not educated and informed) unfairly impacting the wave of hate against Netflix and the film’s maker?

I believe a proper view of the film will change the anger towards the film. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t at least two scenes in the movie that are disturbing, IMO, but that has to be taken in proper context, as it was explained to me by a 21 year-old and a 19 year-old girls. There is a New York Times article that you may find informative.

The blame for the uproar can be laid at the door of Netflix. The poster they chose to promote the film is not the poster by the film’s maker (shown side-by-side below). But, first I offer a link to the scene causing people to say young girls are being sexualized (“Cuties” YouTube video), but I warn you – it is disturbing when viewed out of context.

Cuties film posters

On the left is the poster Netflix used to promote the film on their streaming service. On the right is the poster created for the film. Obviously there is a great difference in how the images form opinions. Netflix, being a capitalist corporation, wants the shock value to draw in renters of the film. Money was their only motive for using the poster on the left. Netflix caused the rash and uninformed opinions that caused the rage. It, along with the scene of the left poster that I saw, initially caused my own expressions of outrage. Then, I learned more.

Maïmouna Doucouré,a French filmmaker, produced “Cuties.” Sexualizing young girls was not her intent. First, Doucouré was very careful with the actors. Their parents were contacted by Doucouré before a word was said to any of the girls. The parents, after being fully informed about the intent of the film, gave their willing consent for their children to audition for the film. Second, each child selected, throughout the filming, had Doucouré carefully explain what would happen next and insured each child fully understood the reasoning behind the scene to be filmed and understood the ramifications in participating.

There are ongoing misconceptions about the film, based solely on the one scene linked above and the poster used initially by Netflix. Viewed on their own without context, it would be a reasonable reaction to have anger over the film. But, we have to understand the sources of our discomfort and the effects of echo chambers, especially on social media.

Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, there are shows on American television that have intentionally caused children to be sexualized with only their parent’s consent and without the children’s consent. Take the show “Dance Moms” that ran for 8 seasons on Lifetime. This was a show centered around parents who put their young girls in dance competitions. The children were dressed up in skimpy outfits and performed dances similar to those in “Cuties.”

Dance Moms on Lifetime

Further, we are extremely comfortable with exploitation and sexualization of women and abuse of women in the shows and movies we watch. One of my sources told me that she has read comments saying that had young looking adult actresses been used instead of the young girls the film would be perfectly acceptable. The problem with that thinking is why don’t we care about women once they turn 18? Also, this anger becomes performative if we are fine with the images of apparent children being used for sexual gratification, just so long as it is legal and no “actual” children are being used. Why is it this film that has exposed so much of our discomfort, when other forms of explicit imagery that we see every day do not?

If you are so upset about the film based on the poster or scene I linked to, why have you not looked into media reports about the film maker’s intent in making the film? Yes, I had the negative knee jerk reaction, but have come to see things differently. Yes, the purpose of this film was to make the viewer uncomfortable and to make you want the sexualization of young girls to stop, because it is happening in countries around the world. We can’t end problems unless we see how they happen, which was the intent of the film maker. It behooves all of us to view the film or research the causes of systemic hyper-sexualization.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. In the end, the real reason we’re all so angry now is because this film criticized child sexualization, rather than participating in it.

Until next time

2 thoughts on “Is the Outrage at the Film “Cuties” Valid?

  1. I really liked what you wrote on this. I value other people’s opinions. I understand why you would take this stance considering all the points you made towards it, but I still do not think it is ok because I am also a person who does not think dance moms is ok and I don’t think any other shows or movies where they have something this sexual and in your face, performed by an underage child, is ok. I understand this film was made by a filmmaker with the best intentions in mind, and that she is trying to reach an audience that is so desensitized to things, that she thinks they need shock value in order to be affected, but I personally don’t think the results of her best intentions outweigh the damage that could be caused to get those results.

    I thought right off the bat, when first reading about this, that i was probably going to end up being a film made to teach a lesson or bring light to an issue. That is why I wanted to hear what like minded people had to say about it. And that is why I appreciate so much the effort you put into researching this. You gave me a lot to think about. I certainly don’t want to add to the ever volatile and flaky moods of people on social media, especially because it is most of these same people that find a lot of the other things you listed as “ok” and even watch them themselves, and possibly let their kids watch and engage with it too. But I know that I don’t think this was the right way to get the point across and let’s face it, how many minds is this filmmaker going to actual affect a change in? But they did put something out there that young girls might end up seeing and still, despite the message, because of their still developing brains, want to mimic. And it did essentially put out some kitty porn for the pedophiles who exist silently, all around us. Most of all, no matter how well it was explained to them or how well the kids understood what they were doing or that the filmmaker had parental consent, I think that the rules for things like this should be the same for sexual consent, and nobody should be able to give that except the person themselves, when they are of an age where they are cognitively mature enough to make that decision on their own.
    As far as Netflix airing it, I think that is where your argument is the most right and i appreciate the reminder. Stuff like this is already out there, all over in everything else.. why is this worse and why should this one not be allowed if so many other things that could be worse are. I am just disappointed, I guess, but in it all. And I forget, because I don’t watch it myself or even watch normal television (we only download the things we watch, so I don’t even get the news) that it IS everywhere already. I will be keeping our subscription and just continue censoring on my own, and influencing people to think differently and act different in these matters as much as I can.


    1. Thank you Sarah for a well thought out and in depth response. I respect and value the opinion you provide and hope it provides thoughtfulness to those who read it. With your comment, my post moves into a good compare and contrast category (remember how our English teachers (and political science and history teachers loved compare & contrast writing assignments?).


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