PARIS: The Netflix film has sparked an uproar across the globe for sexualising underaged girls and led to calls for the boycott of the streaming platform.
Netflix (US) recently released the French film Mignonnes (released in France on April 1), or ‘Cuties’, and to say it drew criticism is an understatement.
The film has been labelled illegal, pornographic, dangerous, and encouraging paedophilia. It drew the ire of politicians as prominent as Republican Ted Cruz, a top trending hashtag, #cancelnetfilx – the heat cranked up so high that Netflix issued a public apology – and justly so after losing $9 billion in value since the release. A petition on Change.org to ‘Cancel Netflix’ amassed over half a million signatories.
Unlike many others commenting, I decided to watch the film, in French, living in France as an Arab-American foreigner, and yes, it is easy to understand how the public could be outraged.
The plot read slightly like Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ when a young Senegalese-French girl moves into state housing in a Parisian suburb with her mother, grandmother and younger siblings.
In the building’s laundromat, the main character sees a neighbour and classmate dancing provocatively to a Latin song. She is fascinated by her ‘liberties,’ ones not offered to her in her religious household. She attempts to fit into her dance crew and influenced by the girls she begins searching online for ‘sexier’ clothes, and later dance moves to fit in.
We see her spiralling, throwing fits of rage, menstruating for the first time, stealing from her mother, and neglecting her younger siblings. All in tandem with being forced to accept her father’s, new, second wife into their home.
Hidden, she hears her mother cry in between phone calls announcing her husband’s wedding and customary well-wishing – this enrages her and is seemingly the trigger for her out-of-character behaviour. She exposes herself to a family member to keep a phone she stole from him, he rejects her.
Her double-life is soon found out at home and a rather dramatic scene takes place where she is placed in the middle of the room and her mother and grandmother throw Zamzam (or Holy) water on her to remove an evil spirit possessing her.
It is extreme, the far end of both ‘cultures’ embodied in a young girl who lashes out with premature sexual behaviour. The culmination of the film can be what can be considered real issues of a teenager’s life, except these girls were only 11-years old and it was all crammed into an hour and thirty-some minutes.
It is an almost impossible topic to approach and any attempt will likely be met with this visceral public reaction. It is human or at the very least a parental, instinct to protect children. I would imagine the content to be heavy on its own without the need to expose a pre-teen’s breast on screen – this actress is underage and with or without parental consent it is dangerous material for predators.
Some are framing the film as being the target of a ‘right-wing campaign’ but being uncomfortable with pre-teen sexuality on screen is a concern that cuts across the political spectrum – it is not a right or left issue.
Additionally, there was some deeply problematic imagery of young actresses and their dance moves. Pouting, twerking, outfits many grown women would never have the courage to wear, and many of them are actively using this to their advantage.
Cut to a new scene: to get out of trouble with two male security guards, they threaten to report him for child molestation. In the same instant, one of the girls receives notice that they are accepted into the competition they have been working towards the entire film.
So Aminata, the main character, breaks out in a seductive dance to convince them they are a real ‘dance crew’ and one of the security officers stare at her in an extremely perverted manner.
As the girls leave the scene, the second officer looks over to him and says, “Really?”
One can only imagine that from the director of photography to art direction and film editing, these images were repeated over and over and still selected then broadcasted across the world without any inkling to the audience’s intent in viewing this.
Yes, there were many important and poignant themes in the film but they were overshadowed by the excessiveness and the rush of the whole film.
It seems the attempt was to portray important issues, immigrant struggles, the cultural differences in female sexuality, the meanness of growing girls towards one another, the naivete of these young girls and the way this is imposed on them today.
This was clearly lost on the public, large-in-part to a tasteless and absolutely inappropriate poster that Netflix created for the film’s launch on its platform, after purchasing worldwide distribution in January 2020.
It seems the centre of the storm is Netflix’s fault. The CEO, Ted Sarandos, called the Senegalese-French director, Maimouna Doucoure, to apologise. She began received death threats and was accused of the very thing she set out to present to the public in order to raise awareness and tackle the issue.
The intent may not have been malicious, but there are malicious and dangerous people and in their eyes, this movie is viewed in an entirely different light – the potentiality of that on its own is the responsibility of everyone involved in the film from creation to distribution.
This film is certainly not one that should be widely distributed, but, one cannot help but stress the need to direct this rage towards perpetrators of crimes against children.