Netflix Cuties PR Nightmare Continues As Accusations Of Children Exploitation Mount
Before anyone reading this comments saying something awful, I fully realize the way that this film was marketed was horrendous. Netflix did a terrible job at conveying what the film was actually about and it misled a whole lot of people into thinking that it was about one thing when it was really about another.
People are saying that this film glorifies the sexual exploitation of children and at first glance I would agree, but please, watch the film first and then judge and you will see that the person that created the film had really good intentions behind it, however some of the plot choices and the way it was shot really dragged the film’s message down.
Netflix: Cuties could have been a good movie
At first glance, you think this film is going to be something like Dance Mom’s: The Movie, because I did. Anyone who has watched Dance Moms knows the politics and fights that goes on behind the scenes, I used to watch this show religously with my own Mom and I thought the film would be something like that, but the film is actually about something completely different.
We follow a young muslim girl of African descent named Amy (Fathia Yousseff), who is leading a fairly conservative, muslim lifestyle. We get an inside look at Conservative Muslim teachings and how they view uncovered women’s bodies and how that is viewed as sin in their eyes. (That’s not actually too different from some sects of Christianity, but I digress.)
One day Amy sees these young girls from her school who are her age doing this urban flavored hoochie dance on the street, and when she’s caught spying on them they gang up on her and start bullying her, with the exception of one girl, while she isn’t besties with her to begin with, she’s more curious about Amy and doesn’t exactly join in when they start bullying her.
Amy just wants to know what the dance is and finally, they explain that they’re in a dance troop called “the cuties” and they’re going up against another group called “the sweetie swaggs” at school.
The tale is actually cleverly interwoven middle school drama with religious conflict. On one hand, Amy wants to be the best hip-hop dancer she can be, but on the other she is constantly being bombarded by messages that if she acts and dresses a certain way then her religion will brand her as a whore.
There is also the underlying message that her religion holds men and women to two completely different standards. On one hand they expect women to be perfectly modest paragons of perfection while their husbands can take off on jaunts down to senegal and marry a second wife and they are expected to congratulate the husband and his new wife and wish him many children.
Amy’s Mother is understandably very upset, as any woman would be when finding out that their husband has had any sort of infidelity, but the Auntie that’s living with them shows no mercy for her struggles as a wife. Even though Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) is clearly miserable and grieving over her marriage, she tells her to buck up and be a real woman about things.
She has to go through their list of family and friends and call people to announce the marriage, while she’s clearly having an emotional meltdown over it. What a message to send a young girl. There is a lot of gender inequality exhibited in this film, and while yes, it is harmful, it’s realistic.
It can be argued that like a lot of young girls, when Amy starts hanging out with the cuties, that she “falls in with the wrong crowd” but if you clearly remember being in an American public middle school, you will know that a lot of the things that these little girls say and do are normal for that age group. Are they age-appropriate?
No, but as a first gen millenial I can say that these things were happening back in the 90’s, I don’t really know why all the Karens are getting offended now. The scene with the boy in the bathroom is what offended me the most and should have had people cringing way more than the dance scenes, but when I was in middle school, I was in a similar situation to Amy.
I did not make the same choice as Amy, but someone definitely dared me to look in the boys bathroom. I was too shy and declined. (Ironically, it was a boy who dared me.)
There are girl fights, including one that results in poor Amy gets pantsed and everyone sees her underwear. But the scenes that has everyone up in arms are the dancing scenes, the scenes which show these little 11 year old girls shaking their booties like pros and and touching each other inappropriately in the name of teaching each other how to twerk.
That scene, where they were all up on each other touching each other’s booty and grinding on the floor, that’s what really cemented it. The storyline was good, the acting was pretty strong, but the scenes where these girls were touching each other and dancing inappropriately could have been shot way differently. If it had been, marketing disaster or not, we would have been looking at a pretty stellar film.
I’m going to be completely fair to this film though. Storywise, it’s strong. Would I reccommend it to be shown to young girls? No. This is not a sleepover film. However, coming from a first-gen millenial who does not have any kids, and therefore has no impressionable people in my household, it’s an interesting story and it keeps you hooked.
However, the film maker, Maïmouna Doucouré actually wanted to showcase how sexualizing children is wrong. So when you look at this film and feel uncomfortable? Good. That is the appropriate reaction, it’s exactly what she was going for.