Netflix Defends ‘Cuties’ as ‘Social Commentary’ Against Sexualization of Young Children

Netflix, amid a backlash over the sexualized portrayal of children in recently released drama “Cuties,” is encouraging critics to watch the movie — which it says makes a statement about pressures young girls face in conforming to societal role models of female sexuality.

The movie, which is rated “TV-MA” for language, centers on Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who joins a “free-spirited dance clique” (called “the cuties”) to escape her family’s dysfunction. After its Sept. 9 release on Netflix, “Cuties” has elicited outrage for showing the girls performing highly sexualized dance routines and depicting the characters in other sexual situations. The backlash has included an online petition calling on Netflix customers to cancel their subscription over “Cuties” and other “disturbing” content with kids on the service.

“‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “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.”

“Cuties” (“Mignonnes”) premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré won the world cinema dramatic directing award.

In a six-minute segment accompanying the film on Netflix, Doucouré says that in performing research for the film 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,” Doucouré says — one represented by her 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.” She adds, “I put my heart into this film because this is my story.”

According to the conservative American advocacy group the Parents Television Council, which claimed it has reviewed the film, “Cuties” is objectionable because of its overt sexualization of the child characters. 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 to post online. In another scene, she tries to seduce a man, who is a family member, to get out of trouble for stealing his mobile phone.

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