Even earlier than Netflix launched the French movie Cuties in the USA, evaluate websites had been brimming with emotional viewers judgements. The film, which facilities on a panicked Parisian preteen named Amy (Fathia Youssouf) as she joins a rebellious clique and navigates her household life, at present holds an 11 % viewers ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. “Completely stunning that this was allowed to be broadcast,” one reads. One other: “Extraordinarily inappropriate.” Yet another: “The world is worse for having this movie in it.”
The debut movie of director Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties is a delicate, small-scale character research of a French-Senagalese lady—not, traditionally, the type of film that draws that a lot mainstream consideration in America in any respect, not to mention intense hatred. But members of Congress are calling it child porn, Doucouré is receiving death threats, and conspiracy theorists obsessive about secret elite cabals of pedophiles are targeting Netflix below the pretense that the streaming service is a part of a world scheme to normalize the sexualization of kids. Caught within the web’s crosshairs, Cuties has develop into a lightning rod, however not an anomaly—it is a new entrance in a tradition conflict that is been occurring for years.
Cuties is a part of a rising subgenre of intimate indie films centered on outsider ladies. Catherine Hardwicke’s 13 is an apparent predecessor. In each Cuties and 13, confused younger feminine leads insurgent in upsetting, age-inappropriate methods to win peer approval and keep away from worrying household lives. Each deal with the bonds between feminine associates and moms and daughters as their major considerations. No romances, no epic endings. Not precisely conventional box-office catnip geared to seize the lots. Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, which focuses on an East London lady named Mia, additionally has thematic overlap. Like Amy, Mia takes solace in hip-hop, lives in public housing, and has a single mom. Like Amy, she leaves a dance competitors when she realizes it’s method an excessive amount of for her. In its exploration of how social media can distort an adolescent’s sense of id, Cuties remembers Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. In French movie, it echoes Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, which additionally follows a Black French lady as she joins a mischievous clique. 13 did provoke some hand-wringing upon launch, however for essentially the most half, these movies have been well-regarded, auteur-driven dives into the experiences of younger ladies. When it premiered at Sundance this yr, Cuties regarded poised to hitch this canon.
Possibly it can. However first it has to navigate a backlash of unprecedented proportions, as its repute will get dragged by way of some notably fetid mud.
To be unambiguous: Cuties isn’t a pornographic movie. Doucouré drew from her personal experiences—like Amy, she’s a French-Senegalese lady who grew up in Paris—and from the tales of younger ladies she interviewed to create an intimate, humorous, painful coming-of-age story. There is no such thing as a nudity. There aren’t any intercourse scenes. It does characteristic disturbing sequences the place its younger actors dance provocatively in inappropriate clothes, and it exhibits Amy taking an image of her crotch and posting it to social media. These scenes are supposed to horrify the viewer, and the plot hinges on Amy understanding that she’s tried to develop up too quick. And, look, France does have a historical past of manufacturing some frankly gross art about younger ladies—however Cuties has a basically reasonable message. Amy rejects features of her conventional Islamic upbringing, however she additionally finally turns away from her misapprehension that rising up means turning your self right into a intercourse object. In interviews, Doucouré has been very clear on this level. “Our ladies see that the extra a girl is overly sexualized on social media, the extra she’s profitable. Our kids imitate what they see, making an attempt to realize the identical consequence with out understanding the which means,” she mentioned in a current interview. “It’s harmful.”