Netflix is cancelled, according to Twitter anyway. The streaming service's forthcoming film, Cuties, has become a lightning rod for debate about child sexuality, the issue which the film purports to reckon with by examining the hyper-sexualisation which young girls face as the media encourages them to act in sexually explicit ways.
The story follows an eleven-year-old named Amy who rebels against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew. The French film won the directing award at Sundance before being picked up by Netflix who yesterday released a poster from a provocative scene in the movie in which the young girls are twerking and grinding for a dance routine.
The poster shows a group of young girls wearing tiny shorts and crop tops striking sexual poses while dancing, and it swiftly inflamed all manner of (largely right-wing) media outlets and Twitter rent-a-gobs, who saw the image out of context and decided Netflix had become a child pornographer. The streaming service pulled the poster and issued an apology, saying, "We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description."
The apology seems to have further fuelled the debate, with Twitter uses encouraging people to cancel their Netflix accounts and petitions to ban the film circulating online. The outrage, coming most vocally from right-wing names such as Tucker Carlson and Paul Joseph Watson, suggests that the film is the latest example of the moral decay of society and that it is actually, as one Change petition reads, “for the viewing pleasure of paedophiles”. Many of the critics, who also appear to be supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory (*sigh*), claim that this is another machination of the global child trafficking ring that all your favourite left-wing celebs have supposedly been swept up in.
which celebrities and high profile figures are involved in.
But what does this have to do with Netflix? Well, in the coastal, liberal media company, right-wing detractors see an enemy. The streaming giant is a huge platform for the Hollywood elite, which Trump supporters so ardently detest. As well as working with high profile actors and directors, Netflix's documentaries have included Knock Down The House, a film focusing on young Democratic women running for office, while a documentary about Trump's path to the presidency reveals his trademark bluster and shady business dealings. Perhaps most importantly, they have recently signed a lucrative deal with former president Barack Obama.
Obama is now being called on to denounce Netflix, as is former Democrat and Netflix board member Susan Rice, possibly singled out because, like the film's director, the French-Senegalese Maïmouna Doucouré, they are Black.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the anger generated online is because a nuanced film festival winner has been snapped up by a streaming service, which gave it grabby (and, let's make no bones about this, deeply inappropriate and thematically deceptive) poster to try and get as many people as possible to stream it. Netflix has admitted its mistake, and reps supposedly contacted Doucouré after the artwork landed to apologise. But, also, this film is not for most people, especially those who seem determined to ignore its nuances. The expectations of an audience at Sundance, who are seeking provocative and difficult art, are a world apart from the average Netflix user logging on to find something fun to stream at the end of the day. Cuties is not going to appear in your suggestions when you finish binging Selling Sunset.
As Avengers: Endgame star Tessa Thompson said on social media : "The film comments on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescent girls. Disappointed to see the current discourse. Disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing."
CUTIES – designed to push buttons – has pissed off all the right people:https://t.co/pTj7eKhhYU— Tim Robey (@trim_obey) September 9, 2020
Telegraph critic Tim Robey tweeted that the film, "designed to push buttons", has "pissed off all the right people", with his review of the movie pointing out that Doucouré's aim is to speak to an uncomfortable truth about how children are sexualised, saying that "by the end, she goes all out to make us squirm."
That the target of her film has been interpreted as the message the film preaches speaks volumes about the overreactive cycles of outrage which churn through the internet. After all, if people were really furious about teenagers dancing in hot pants, then surely the real villain worth taking down would be TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, (as well as outlets like the Daily Mail, which has been typically quick to wade into the debate even as it stocks its sidebar of shame with bikini-clad teenagers). Instead, the Twitchforks come out for the film that holds up a mirror to uncomfortable truths about young girls we'd rather not face. You've really shot the messenger on this one, guys.
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