The French Bildungsroman drama ‘Cuties’ is now available to stream on Netflix, despite the controversy that surrounds the movie, which might disperse once the people actually watch it. Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties (in French, Mignonnes) successfully premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, but controversy struck late this summer for several reasons.
The Controversy Surrounding ‘Cuties’
Firstly, Netflix’s infamous poster featured its four lead girls in booty shorts and crop tops striking provocative poses, while the original French poster, showed the girls playing around with shopping bags.
Secondly, Netflix provided an utterly inappropriate description of the movie, given the young actor’s age and cultural background: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
Soon, Netflix was called out for promoting paedophilia. Several petitions started online to have the film removed from Netflix. Netflix quickly apologized for the poster, admitting that it was not representative of the film. Netflix also updated the image on their service and edited the movie description.
The description for ‘Cuties’ now reads: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” As a result of bad marketing and PR, Doucouré herself became a target. She spoke to Deadline, “I discovered the poster at the same time as the American public.”
She said that her reaction to the backlash “was a strange experience. I hadn’t seen the poster until after I started getting all these reactions on social media, direct messages from people, attacks on me. I didn’t understand what was going on. That was when I went and saw what the poster looked like. I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hyper-sexualization of children. I also received numerous death threats.”
After many problematic shots that oversexualize the girls leaked all over the internet, one cannot help but wonder if that the case for ‘Cuties’ story line as well? Continue reading to find out!
The Plot Synopsis
‘Cuties’ follows Amy, an 11-year-old immigrant from Senegal, who is new to the Parisian lifestyle. She has a family that has strictly conservative beliefs and an inflexible way of living. Her family’s repressive background is highlighted after her father decides to have a second wife and Amy’s mother is forced to accept this second marriage. Amy is also preached by her aunt regarding the evils of promiscuity.
Soon after, Amy meets Angelica, who opposes all these beliefs. Angelica is part of a group of dancers with the name, ‘Cuties.’ Angelica, Jess, Coumba, and Yasmine are also members of the same dance group. They are ‘rebellious’ and dress age-inappropriately while performing even precocious dance routines.
Amy, under peer-pressure, picks up their mannerisms and dance steps to perform at a district level dance competition. The girls are often witty & comical when it comes to their precociousness. Their real age is reflected through their many awkward & distorted beliefs about sex. Amy and Angelica share numerous light-hearted and relatable moments portraying their naiveté. They have a gummy-bear eating contest, a pillow fight, and talk about their genuine fears and big dreams.
Amy uses her love for dancing and popularity as a form of escapism from her restrictive home life. Unfortunately, her trip to this dreamland ends, and she finds herself fading and becoming someone else entirely.
The Ending: Amy’s Reality Vs Her Dreamland
The dance contest is on the same day of Amy’s father’s second wedding. This draws out the contrast between Amy’s life that she tries to make for herself & the life that has been given to her by her family. Amy has her mind already made up, and so she will perform with her girl-gang. Wearing her best outfit, Amy sneaks out of her house and runs away from her aunt’s watchful & judgemental eyes.
She then waits for Yasmine to make her way to the contest and pushes her into a lake. Then, she soon realizes that Yasmine cannot swim, and beings to contemplate whether her dance & popularity are worth someone’s life. Luckily, Yasmine to latches onto a lifebuoy who saves her. Amy rushes to the competition, and the rest of the Cuties’ have no option and let Amy to perform with them.
While performing, the reality & trauma catch up to Amy as she starts hallucinating the sound of her mother singing in her native language. She gets shocked and freezes. She has a striking epiphany, and she immediately runs back to her home. She goes back to her reality and faces it. After that moment on stage, her era of endless escapism ends.
She arrives homes and pleads with her mother to openly condemn her father’s second marriage. Her mother tells Amy that she should not to feel obliged to attend the wedding as she is just his daughter. But she also insists that she herself on the other hand, has no option but to satisfy his husband by completing her duty as his so-called first wife. She leaves Amy to attend the wedding.
Amy changes into her casual clothing and walks out of the building. She finds a group of little girls skipping and joins them, skipping to her heart’s content.
Cuties: A Final Note
There are certain questions so as to why would the movie-makers chose to dress up underage girls in completely inappropriate & oversexualized clothes, dismissing any awareness regarding paedophilia. There were several scenes that were uncomfortable to watch. These scenes could have been easily edited out, or rewritten without compromising with the plot or the story line.
Throughout the movie, it is shown that from a tender age, Amy has been forced to prioritize her family duties over herself. She finally feels a sense of freedom after adapting to an impertinent, obscene & precocious behaviour.
Amy realizes that at the end of the day, both these cultures succeed in exploiting women and destroy their sense of self-worth. After getting hit by this reality, she feels empathetic towards her mother and hastens her way to stop her from attending her husband’s second wedding.
The Final Shot Of Amy ‘Skipping’
Coming-of-age generally means finding your own identity despite everything. It is obvious that this notion of ‘finding yourself’ varies along with different cultures and family backgrounds.
In ‘Cuties’, only after Amy’s two opposite worlds collide with each other, she is led into adulthood. Amy’s mother commands her to turn into a ‘woman’ by devoting herself to her family and her future husband. On the other hand, her newly found world recognizes promiscuity as an onset of adulthood. The only similarity is the pressure these two worlds put on Amy. After feeling trapped in the extremities of the two worlds, Amy finds herself pushed towards her wit’s end.
As the movie ends, Amy discovers her solace in the unadulterated and simplistic child-like joy of skipping. She leaves behind the burdens of her repressive traditions and hangs up her wings of the ‘rebellious’ precociousness. She finds her self-worth by simply being a child. She comes of age without losing her innocence.
So is the ending of the movie ‘Cuties’ problematic or not? That is something for you to decide!