Why Netflix’s controversial Cuties deserves a chance
Don’t let an internal fuck-up deter you from supporting the art of a Black woman.
The controversy was warranted. When Netflix teased their latest arthouse grab, a French film called Cuties, users were understandably outraged. A poster plastered across most people’s homepage portrayed a group of pre-teenage girls in crop-tops and shorts, their poses hypersexualised, with the film’s title emblazoned across the bottom: CUTIES.
For those who knew little about this film -- and let’s face it, unless you followed film festivals and arthouse cinema, why would you? -- it looked perverted; a symptom of how ‘the media’ has successfully normalised salacious imagery involving children. To the QAnon conspiracy theorists, who’ve spent weeks using the hashtag #SaveOurChildren to highlight what they believe to be a paedophile ring operating at higher levels of Hollywood and politics, here was the proof of what they had been talking about.
Actor Tessa Thompson pointed out the disappointing angling of the film, which she saw at Sundance and loved, on Twitter, and users responded negatively. “Tessa ily but what?” @starksazula said. She responded: “Have you seen the film?”
It is, in actual fact, a mix of a Netflix fuck-up and unfortunately coincidental timing. The poster for Cuties, which has since been removed from Netflix, was a poor representation of a film that explores far deeper and more complex issues than that one-sheet suggested. ““We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties,” Netflix said in a statement to Deadline. “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance.”
So with the assets changed, will people still be keen to give Cuties a chance? We hope so. While your first taste of the film might have been soured by some bad marketing, there is a talented Black woman filmmaker behind it. It’s her directorial debut. And in an industry that’s already hostile to women -- women of colour even more so -- it’s imperative that you stream it regardless of the controversy that brought it into your mindset.
Set in France, Cuties tells the coming of age story of a young Senegalese Muslim girl who is torn between her culture and the pressure she feels to grow up, and is constantly surrounded by hypersexual images of young women. The conversation Cuties instigates, and has with itself, is deep-rooted and important, and as with most films, the raising of this subject matter is more of an exploration of it rather than a straightforward condoning.
Maïmouna Doucouré, the film’s writer-director, drew on her own lived experience when making it, and it went on to win the Directing Jury Award at Sundance earlier this year. Undoubtedly, Cuties does raise a bunch of questions that you might find uncomfortable, but in order to make change it’s vital that we address them. For Maïmouna’s film to earn high praise only to risk being boycotted as a result of poor marketing is the epitome of cancel culture doing more negative than good. Criticise Netflix for their misjudged poster -- but remember that a career relies on you streaming a film that’s deserving of your time. And if cancel culture brings minorities in an industry of white cis men down, then it’s not serving the purpose you want it to.