Cuties director defends Netflix film,calls it 'feminist' after outrage

‘Cuties’ director defends her ‘feminist’ Netflix film after Ted Cruz and other Members of Congress called for a DOJ investigation into claims it ‘sexualizes young girls and encourages pedophilia’

  • The French-Senegalese director of Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré, defended her film after coming under criticism over claims it hyper-sexualizes young girls
  • ‘It’s important to see someone like you on the screen, and grow up with a lot of possibilities. Diversity and inclusion have to be the keys to progress,’ she argued 
  • Ted Cruz called on Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated child porn laws in the making of the film 
  • In a letter, Cruz slams the film saying it ‘sexualizes’ young girls, features ‘partial child nudity’ and at one point exposes ‘a minor’s bare breast’
  • Cruz warned the footage would be used by pedophiles ‘in abusive ways’ and said he feared the production of the film involved more ‘explicit and abusive scenes’  
  • The French film ‘Mignonnes’ – known as ‘Cuties’ in English – depicts young girls in a dance group, dressed in risqué outfits, performing sexually suggestive moves 
  • Its release on streaming giant Netflix last Wednesday sparked a backlash  

The director of Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré, has defended her film after coming under a barrage of criticism over claims it hyper-sexualizes young girls.

Speaking in a panel at the Toronto Film Festival on French filmmakers Monday, Doucouré explained how the indie film now streaming on Netflix was a social commentary on how young girls are treated.

‘It’s because I saw so many things and so many issues around me lived by young girls, that I decided to make this film and sound an alarm and say we need to protect our children,’ Doucouré explained. 

The French-Senegalese director of Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré, has defended her film after coming under a barrage of criticism over claims it hyper-sexualizes young girls

Speaking in a panel at the Toronto Film Festival on French filmmakers Monday, Doucouré explained how the indie film was a social commentary on how young girls are treated. Pictured, a shot from the original poster which has been a source of controversy

‘It’s bold, it’s feminist, but it’s so important and necessary to create debate and try to find solutions, for me as an artist, for politicians and parents. It’s a real issue.’

In a six-minute segment accompanying the film on Netflix, Doucoure says that in performing research for the film – her feature directorial debut – she met with hundreds of pre-teens to understand how they perceived their femininity in today’s society.

‘Our girls see that the more a woman is sexualized on social media, the more she’s successful,’ she says in ‘Why I Made Cuties.’ ‘And yeah, it’s dangerous.’

Amy, the film’s protagonist, is ‘navigating between two models of femininity,’ Doucoure says — one represented by her Muslim mother’s traditional beliefs, and the other by the Cuties dance squad. Amy believes she can ‘find her freedom through that group of dancers and their hyper-sexualization. But is that really true freedom? Especially when you’re a kid? Of course not.’ Doucoure, born and raised in Paris in a Senegalese family, adds, ‘I put my heart into this film because this is my story.’

The French film entitled ‘Mignonnes’ – known as ‘Cuties’ in English – depicts young girls in a dance group, all dressed in risqué outfits and performing sexually suggestive choreography. 

Members of Congress are demanding action be taken against Netflix including a possible investigation by the Department of Justice after the film Cuties has sparked outrage for showing children dressed provocatively and twerking on camera

According to the conservative American advocacy group the Parents Television Council, which said it reviewed the film, Cuties is objectionable because of its overt sexualization of the child characters. 

That, the PTC alleged, eclipses its implicit message about the dangers of social media and how sexual images in popular culture negatively affect kids.

The PTC says that in addition to the girls’ sexualized dance routines and costumes, one scene shows Amy pulling down her underwear to photograph her genitals and then posting it on social media. 

Earlier in the scene, she tries to seduce her adult cousin to get out of trouble for stealing his mobile phone. At another point, Amy is browbeaten by her new Cuties friends into an attempt to take a picture of a boy’s penis in a school bathroom (she fails).

‘Although there is a danger that little girls will be attracted to this film, the far greater risk is the way this film normalizes the sexualization of little girls,’ PTC program director Melissa Henson said in a statement Thursday, adding that Netflix is ‘desensitizing millions of viewers at home by asking them to be entertained by it.’

The plot sees an 11-year-old girl called Amy who joins a group of dancers called ‘the cuties.’ The pre-teen ‘grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process,’ the outline on IMDB states.  

Amy must juggle the strict rules of her Senegalese family and social media’s emphasis on appearance.

She joins a dance group formed by three other girls from her neighborhood, whose choreographies are sometimes suggestive.

However, while publicizing the movie, Netflix chose to focus almost solely on Amy’s participation in her school dance team and their quest to ‘twerk their way to stardom at a local dance contest’. 

The site’s trailer and poster featured imagery of pre-adolescent girls dancing provocatively in very skimpy outfits, while Netflix’s description of the movie centered around their ‘increasingly sensual dance routines’. 

‘It’s important to see someone like you on the screen, and to grow up with a lot of possibilities. So, of course, diversity and inclusion have to be the keys to progress in our cinema,’ Doucouré argued in the panel as seen by the Hollywood Reporter.   

‘It’s important to see someone like you on the screen, and to grow up with a lot of possibilities. So, of course, diversity and inclusion have to be the keys to progress in our cinema,’ director Doucouré argued in a panel at the Toronto Film Festival

But the backlash against the film has come thick and fast and started before the film was even released on Netflix. 

The first mistake made by the company was to use a promotion poster that depicted  four pre-teen girls striking in suggestive dance poses.  

Twitter users declared the poster to be ‘revealing’ and claimed it was guilty of ‘explicitly sexualizing’ the girls who portray 11-year-olds in the film. 

It saw a petition generated which was signed by more than 20,000 people asking for the film to be removed.    

The poster has since been updated to reflect a more conservative portrayal of the film’s story. 

Netflix did itself a disservice with the ‘misleading’ marketing, which stirred up a right-wing campaign against the movie, New Yorker contributor Richard Brody wrote of the film.

‘The subject of ‘Cuties’ isn’t twerking; it’s children, especially poor and nonwhite children, who are deprived of the resources — the education, the emotional support, the open family discussion — to put sexualized media and pop culture into perspective,’ he wrote. The film, according to Brody, tells the story of ‘a girl’s outrage at, and defiance of, a patriarchal order.’ 

Netflix has released a statement in relation to the outcry regarding the film defending it as ‘a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. ‘It’s an award winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up – and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.’

But now that the film has been available to stream for the last five days, viewers from across the political divide are asking for the film to be removed deeming it to be ‘inappropriate’. 

Its release last Wednesday sparked an immediate backlash with the hashtag #CancelNetflix trending. 

Republican politician Cruz penned a letter (above) to Attorney General Bill Barr calling on him to ‘investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography’

Texas Senator Ted Cruz called for the DOJ to investigate Netflix and the Cuties filmmakers to determine whether they broke any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.  

In the letter, addressed directly to Barr, Cruz slams the film saying it ‘sexualizes’ young girls, showcases ‘dance scenes that simulate sexual activities’, features ‘partial child nudity’ and at one point exposes ‘a minor’s bare breast’.

‘The film routinely fetishizes and sexualizes these pre-adolescent girls as they perform dances simulating sexual conduct in revealing clothing including at least one scene with partial child nudity. These scenes in and of themselves are harmful,’ he wrote.

Cruz warned that the footage would be used by pedophiles ‘in abusive ways’ and said he feared the production of the film involved even more ‘explicit and abusive scenes’.

‘It is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes, and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and imitate this film in abusive ways,’ he wrote. 

Cruz waded in to the debate around the film Saturday tweeting a letter he said he sent to the DOJ Friday calling for an investigation. This came days after Donald Trump named Cruz as one of his potential Supreme Court nominees

Cruz added his name to a growing number of bipartisan lawmakers who have blasted ‘Cuties’ and called for action, including Senator Tom Cotton, Representative Jim Banks, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard. 

On the other side of the political spectrum, Christine Pelosi, an attorney and the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote: ‘Hi @netflix, from a customer and former ADA in SFDA’a Child Abuse-Sexual Assault Unit: ‘Cuties’ hypersexualizes girls my daughter’s age no doubt to the delight of pedophiles like the ones I prosecuted. Cancel this, apologize, work with experts to heal your harm. #CancelNetflix.’ 

Several members of Congress urged the DOJ to investigate the entertainment giant with some calling for a probe into allegations it is effectively distributing child pornography. 

DeAnna Lorraine, a former Republican candidate for Congress from California, tweeted that ‘Child pornography is illegal in America.’

‘As the mother of an 8-year old girl, I STRONGLY support #CancelNetflix,’ added Beatrice Cardenas, another California Republican.

Indiana Congressman Jim Banks has called for the DOJ to bring child porn charges against Netflix

Republican politician Beatrice Cardenas joined calls for people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions

Campaigner for children’s rights, Lila Rose, declared the film to be pornographic and accused Netflix of exploiting children 

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks called on the Department of Justice to bring legal action against Netflix. 

‘As a father of young daughters, I find it sickening. Not only is this movie fodder for pedophiles, it encourages very young girls to defy their parents’ wishes and share pornographic images of themselves with strangers, ‘ Banks told the Daily Caller. ‘Our culture has come a long way in recent years, recognizing the power of television, movies and magazines to affect young girls.

‘The lessons taught in this film are not ones I want my daughters learning.’ Banks continued, ‘The DOJ should be readying charges against Netflix for distribution of child pornography.’  

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard went as far as to accuse Netflix of being complicit in encouraging pedophilia and child trafficking.    

‘Netflix child porn ‘Cuties’ will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade. 1 in 4 victims of trafficking are children. It happened to my friend’s 13 year old daughter. Netflix, you are now complicit. #CancelNetflix,’ Gabbard wrote. 

Anyone who says this is a conspiracy or this isn’t a child exploitation needs to seriously wake up, none of this was necessary for the story. These are 11-year-old girls… Cuties crossed so many lines… It was shot in a predatory manner without any sense of serious consequences,’ wrote actress Evan Rachel Wood. 

The outrage spilled over on social media with tens of thousands of people calling for a boycott of Netflix. 

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard accused Netflix of being complicit in encouraging pedophilia and child trafficking

Ryan Fournier, who campaigns for younger Trump voters, appeared delighted that the stock market value had fallen in recent days as they hashtag Cancel Netflix continues to spread

Tweets with the hashtag #CancelNetflix have became the top trending topic for the past several days. 

A first wave of criticism, in August, led Netflix to withdraw ‘inappropriate’ artwork used to promote the film, which was released in theaters that month in France.

Netflix also said it apologized for having used ‘inappropriate’ images.

But now broader opposition to some of the imagery has come from across the political spectrum in the United States.

Several social media users accused Netflix of supporting child abuse by hosting the movie.  

Furious viewers continue to mount a cancel Netflix campaign as the controversial French film ‘Cuties’ hit the streaming service on Wednesday amid claims it supports child abuse

Social media users have hit out at people defending the movie as they claim that it  promotes pedophilia. A Netflix trailer of the movie featured dancing 11-year-old girls, pictured

Some social media users accused the movie of ‘child porn’

Filmmaker Sonia Poulton blasted those who said the movie is ‘art’ calling them ‘child abusers’

‘Unbelievable that they released ‘Cuties’. So child porn is ok now Netflix? Raise your hand if you agree this is disgusting,’ wrote Twitter user David Fischer, adding the hashtag #CancelNetflix.    

‘If you watch 11-year-olds twerk, you’re a pervert. If you direct 11 year olds to touch themselves on camera, you’re a pedophile. If you support Netflix making and airing #Cuties, you’re enabling abuse,’ said Republican candidate for Congress James P. Bradley. 

Some critics hit out at those who are defending the movie and claimed that it should not be sold as art. 

‘Netflix is comfortable with this. Plenty of people will defend it. This is where our culture is at,’ said Daily Caller writer Mary Margaret Olohan. 

The campaign to cancel Netflix appeared to be growing judging by recent tweets

‘If you call ‘Cuties’ art or a ‘social statement’. I call you a child abuser. We have no time for niceties while children are being sexualized for mass entertainment,’ added writer Sonia Poulton. 

Others accused both Democrats and Republicans of not speaking out and urged them to call for its removal.  

‘Our elected officials are mighty silent on the Cuties movie by Netflix. Even those running for office, supported by the top tiers of both establishment parties, are silent. I will never be silent. Why run just to be silent? #CancelNetflix and their board members,’ said Republican House candidate Buzz Patterson. 

Candidates for Congress also got involved in the debate

The fact that mainstream media is making the pedophile-fodder of #Cuties into a right-v-left thing should truly embarrass anyone who is on the political left. Protecting children should be universal, not relegate to one side of the political spectrum,’ wrote user JD Rucker.   

An online petition has also been started calling on people to cancel their Netflix subscription in light of its decision to host the movie. 

‘Please make the choice to prove to Netflix our children are more valuable than our entertainment, and our money is better spent else where!’ reads the petition that has been signed by almost 620,000 people as of Friday evening.   

Shares in Netflix have continues to call over the last five days as more people demand the streaming service remove the film from its platform

An online petition calling for people to cancel their Netflix subscription over its hosting of the movie almost had 650,000 signatures as of Monday evening and was steadily growing 

Cuties, tells the story of an 11-year-old Senegalese Muslim girl named Amy, pictured front

Actress Tessa Thompson was among those to rush to the defense of the movie 

‘The hypersexualization of girls (and boys) is disgusting,’ tweeted Omar Navarro, another Republican politician. ‘It is morally and ethically reprehensible. Pedophiles, child rapists and perverts would have a great time with #Cuties.’

Among the voices praising the movie were American actress Tessa Thompson (‘Creed’, ‘Avengers: Endgame’), who found it ‘beautiful.’

‘It gutted me at @sundancefest,’ she went on.

‘It introduces a fresh voice at the helm. She’s a French Senegalese Black woman mining her experiences.

‘The film comments on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescent girls. Disappointed to see the current discourse. Disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing.

‘I understand the response of everybody. But it doesn’t speak to the film I saw.’

Many Twitter users highlighted the fact that Netflix was to blame for the provocative portrayal of the movie, but that didn’t stop its director Doucouré from being attacked online 

The original French promotional poster depicts the youngsters on a shopping trip

In stark contrast, the original poster for the movie – which has been used on other sites like IMDB – depicts the youngsters on a shopping trip. 

Netflix later issued an apology for the trailer and poster featuring the skimpy outfits.  

‘We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties,’ a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement at the time. 

‘It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film, which premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.’

Doucouré also received a phone call from the streaming site’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who made a personal apology for the error, she revealed. 

‘We had several discussions back and forth after this happened. Netflix apologized publicly, and also personally to me,’ the director shared. 

According to Doucouré – and several film critics – it is meant to offer commentary on the dangers of society sexualizing its youth. Pictured, a scene from the movie

Maïmouna Doucouré, the director of upcoming Netflix movie Cuties, revealed she was sent death threats after a poster for the movie was slammed for ‘sexualizing’ minors 

Netflix has changed the synopsis for the movie now reading: ‘Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.’

However, before being changed, it read: ’11-year-old Amy lives with her mom, Mariam, and younger brother, awaiting her father to rejoin the family from Senegal. 

‘Amy is fascinated by disobedient neighbor Angelica’s free-spirited dance clique, a group that stands in sharp contrast to stoic Mariam’s deeply held traditional values. 

‘Undeterred by the girls’ initial brutal dismissal and eager to escape her family’s simmering dysfunction, Amy, through an ignited awareness of her burgeoning femininity, propels the group to enthusiastically embrace an increasingly sensual dance routine, sparking the girls’ hope to twerk their way to stardom at a local dance contest.’   

While the streaming site accepted full responsibility for the blunder the damage was already done, with both Doucouré and her movie facing furious attacks from thousands of outraged viewers. 

She revealed she even received death threats after the ‘hyper sexualized’ poster and trailer went online. 

‘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-serialization of children,’ she told Deadline. ‘I also received numerous death threats.’

‘I discovered the poster at the same time as the American public,’ she explained. 

‘My reaction? It 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.’       

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