Opinion: Netflix’s “cuties” promotes the sexualization of children – and that’s not okay

The year is 2020. Wildfires run unchecked, riots bloody America’s streets and a pandemic cripples the healthcare systems worldwide. 

On top of all that, Netflix released a movie catering to pedophiles.

It’s not a documentary about the justice system or a behind-the-scenes feature about “To Catch a Predator.” No, “Cuties” is full-fledged pedophilia bait, released under the guise of embracing femininity and social media criticism. Though director Maïmouna Doucouré meant it to be a social commentary on peer pressure and the hypersexualization of girls, it is clearly just a commentary on American hypersexualization for cash.

“Cuties,” released on Netflix Sept. 9, follows the story of 11-year-old Amy, a girl struggling to decide between her Muslim family’s beliefs about womanhood and her new friends’ experimentation with puberty. In a fit of rebellion, Amy joins a dance club and shrugs off her old life, choosing sparkly crop tops and spandex over the hijab.

“I can use my voice, my art, to share my vision of femininity,” Doucouré said in an interview with Netflix.

By all means, share that vision — that’s what creativity is for. But in that way, let adults be adults and let children be children.

The release of “Cuties” sparked major outrage, with thousands of people launching #CancelNetflix on Twitter as a pledge to cancel their subscriptions in protest. Doucouré herself has received death threats. Netflix tweeted an apology, not for the movie itself, but for the inappropriate poster.

Much outrage is aimed at the Netflix version of the poster. “Cuties” is a French film, adapted for American viewers with English dubbed voices, and the advertising for each version is different. The Netflix poster shows the four main girls squatting or kneeling in provocative poses, dressed in skimpy dance outfits baring midriffs and full legs, mouths agape. The French poster is more innocent, but not quite: the same girls skip arm in arm, clutching shopping bags, with undergarments worn on top of their street clothes. The same sexual lot is displayed, though it is more of a hinted undertone in the French version.

As if barely-there outfits weren’t enough to encourage pedophilia, the girls act and dance in such an obscene way that IMDb rating service had to issue multiple warnings on its website. In a dance competition scene, the girls perform choreography similar to the WAP dance proliferated on Tik Tok, a routine of slamming their hips on the floor while raising their buttocks in the air. In the same scene, they lie on their backs, spread their legs in the air and slap their crotches. Twerking is treated as a staple dance move. At one point, a girl takes a picture of her genitals and posts it online (no nudity is shown). The four children gather around a phone to watch pornography during one scene (no nudity is shown). Throughout the movie, cameras linger on the girls’ buttocks, chests, bare midriffs and crotches.

The sexual nature of the film, especially for its principal cast of 11-year-olds, earned it a TV-MA rating and a rating of severe on IMDb.

The very fact that “Cuties” is rated TV-MA shows that the target audience is not pre-adolescent girls, as the director may have wanted. If you strip away camera directions and just read the script itself, it becomes clear that the movie was never meant for young viewers. No parent would let a child watch this in good faith. The only people who would watch it would be watching it for shock value or for the graphic sexualization of minors. This movie was clearly aimed for adults.

Doucouré said she wanted to “shed light on pressures faced by young girls as they become teenagers,” citing that “our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she’s successful.”

That is obviously a massive problem we as people, especially in American celebrity culture, need to address. We need to show our girls that you can be successful without selling naked pictures and videos of yourself or sleeping around with anyone who will have you. A movie protesting sexualizing children — while sexualizing children — is not the answer.

We don’t need to set a house ablaze to show that arson is a problem.

Doucouré makes us think the girls act this way because hypersexuality is pushed on them. In a way, she is correct: it is pushed on the 11-year-old actresses by the director, producers, costume designers and Netflix itself. 

Pedophilia is not a sexuality. It is not a preference or an act that should be deemed even remotely acceptable by society.

It’s a crime: a perturbing, disgusting act of ripping away a child’s innocence and bodily autonomy while shredding the very concept of consent. 

While “Cuties” is headlined, Netflix enables it.

Victoria Nelson is a Copy Editor. Follow her on Twitter at @victoriafnelson.

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