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French Cinema Organization Defends ‘Cuties’ Director During Backlash As Viewers Slam The Movie For ‘Sexualizing Children’

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Netflix and filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré have come under fire for the controversial coming-of-age film, Cuties. Now, UniFrance – a French cinema organization – is defending Maïmouna and her drama. More inside…

When the Cuties poster was first released, it was met with TONS of criticism. Mainly, people were outraged at how the poster sexualized young girls, which resulted in a trending #CancelNetflix hashtag.

The film is a coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old named Amy navigating life in modern society.

The synopsis reads:

Eleven-year-old Amy, her mother Mariam, and her younger siblings have newly relocated to a home in an impoverished suburb of Paris, awaiting Amy’s father to rejoin the family from Senegal. But as Mariam becomes increasingly distracted by challenges within her marriage, Amy begins to feel the weight of family responsibilities. Eager to seek refuge from her life at home, she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited and rebellious group of girls at her school. Hoping for a taste of freedom and the chance to become popular, she convinces them to let her join their dance crew, which the girls have dubbed “Cuties”. But as they rehearse for a local dance contest, Amy finds herself increasingly torn between her traditional Muslim upbringing and the diverse cultures and attitudes of her new friends in her adopted city.

Here's what the Senegalese-French film director said about her directorial debut:

“The main character of Amy is my alter ego,” director Maïmouna Doucouré told Shadow & Act. “She's based on my story. Just like Amy, I had questions about my femininity because I was growing up in two cultures, my parents' Senegalese culture, and then the French culture. So I had all of these questions also about how to become a woman."

“All of the stories that you see in the film are based on the stories that [were] told [to] me and I realized that these girls were learning to construct themselves and their version of femininity based on what they saw in social media. I realized that these girls were growing up with a vision that was objectifying women and that they were growing up with this idea of a woman being an object and a woman's worth and value being based on the number of likes that they received."

However, everyone didn’t see it that way.

Below are a few controversial scenes from the movie, which we are posting strictly as the reference point for a proper discussion to take place, as opposed to second hand descriptions:

And here are the outraged reactions:

Director Maïmouna Doucouré won a Directing Award for Cuties when the film debuted at Sundance in January. Months later, she found herself in the middle a online sh*tstorm of controversy after the release of the film’s poster. She said

The outrage got out of control where folks began to send to her death threats.

“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 hypersexualiation of children,” she told Deadline in her first interview since the incident. “I also received numerous death threats.”

“We had several discussions back and forth after this happened,” she continued. “Netflix apologized publicly, and also personally to me,” she shared.

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos called her up to apologize.  Some right wingers have also used this debate to further their unfounded Qanon theories that people like Oprah, Ellen, the Obamas and Susan Rice (the latter two who became directly affiliated with Netflix AFTER this film was made) are on a mission to promote sex trafficking in everyone's faces.  They believe Trump is the designated person who will protect chldren from child predators.  Yes, the man who is accused of visiting Pedophile Island with Jeffrey Epstein and accused by almost 100 women of sexual assault.

Again, the conspiracy theories hold no water and have no credibility, but in a climate where conspiracy theories are being passed off as fact and believed by those looking to simply believe in something simplistic, it's all quite dangerous rhetoric. Many believe Cuties is simply being used as a vehicle to futher push these conspiracy theories.

Although the backlash has been tremendous, Maïmouna said she has received “extraordinary support” from the French government, and that the film will be used as an educational tool in her home country.

Most recently, French cinema organization UniFrance, which is backed by the French government and represents hundreds of local producers, sales agents, directors and talent agents, sent out a memo to the industry to “offer its full support” to the director and its French producers.

In part, the organization wrote:

Cuties offers a subtle and sophisticated denunciation of the hyper-sexualization of a young generation who translate and reproduce the images that inundate them in their daily lives, particularly via social media. Whether we are spectators, parents, teenagers, producers, or distributors, this film invites us to reflect on the power of these images and the complexity of the constant dialogue between young people and the generation of their parents. This film appeals to our sense of discernment, be that on an individual or a collective level, and calls on us to assume our responsibilities.

Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a presidential election campaign in full swing. In this context, UniFrance and all of its members wish to pledge their full support to Maïmouna Doucouré and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression. This is because one of the great strengths of cinema is its capacity to reach beyond borders and boundaries, and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies.

Furthermore, we consider that the call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalogue, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas.

You can read the full message here.

Avengers: Endgame star Tessa Thompson also came to the film’s defense:

”#CUTIES is a beautiful film. It gutted me at @sundancefest. 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,” she tweeted. “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,” she continued.

Writer Caz Armstrong wrote an essay for In Their Own League, about Cuties and she said Netflix “betrayed” Maïmouna by originally marketing the film with a sexualized image of the young characters.



“When Netflix’s marketing puts out a sexually provocative poster, they are deliberately leveraging the most controversial aspect of the film in an inappropriate way,” Armstrong writes. “They’re doing exactly what the film itself puts under the microscope, sexually exploiting girls without the mature discussion required. It’s clickbait.”

While we get what the director was trying to do with the coming-of-age film, there’s a fine line that’s should be balanced when it comes to displaying children in a sexual manner, even when it is attempting to prove a point about the problem of sexualizing children.

While we’re all aware of how children these days are being exposed to explicit content at an earlier age, one must be super mindful with storytelling in order to properly get the point across.

Photo: Netflix via AP

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