Did This Film Really Just Sexualise Children?
Caught up in a marketing nightmare Cuties/Mignonnes directed by Maïmouna Doucouré had its fair share of controversy before it even released September 9th on Netflix. The films Netflix poster portraying 4 pre-teen girls in skimpy outfits had the internet in an uproar as people began calling the film out for its hypersexualization of children. However, very few people had actually seen the film at this point and if they had they might have realised that the purpose of the film was actually to make comment on this exact issue not support it. Don’t get me wrong this is still a confronting, controversial, and sometimes uncomfortable film that won’t be for everybody, but I think people do need to give it a chance to explain itself and not let a poorly chosen poster make your mind up for you.
Cuties centres around 11-year old Amy. Originally from Senegal, she lives with her mother Mariam in one of Paris’s poorest neighbourhoods along with her two younger brothers. Becoming fascinated by her disobedient neighbour Angelica’s dance troupe, The Cuties, with contrasting characteristics to Mariam’s religious customs, values and traditions Amy soon begins to change things about herself to fit in with Angelica and her posse. At its core, this film is a story of navigating the pressures of growing up; family pressures, social pressures, and even pressures from one’s own body as she enters puberty.
What struck me most about this film was how unapologetically it portrays this awkward time in a young girls life. Whilst the dialogue can be uncomfortable at times considering how young these girls are it is also a very accurate depiction of the kinds of conversations 11 and 12 year olds have, whether we want to admit it or not. In a lot of cultures girls who begin puberty are told they are now women and yet the expectation of what being a woman means is a blurred and complicated path to navigate. Cuties doesn’t stray away from these complications and Amy’s character arc is the epitome of how easy it is to get lost when trying to discover what being a woman means at 11 years old.
This film is important to starting a conversation around how we let media and social pressure dictate this definition of being a woman. Particularly in this modern age where most people have 24/7 access to the internet it’s not just 16 year olds reading women’s magazines or googling the latest Cardi B music video it’s our children and we shouldn’t be ignorant to this anymore. Amy’s four friends are perfect example’s of this. The group of girls Amy, Angelica, Jess, Coumba & Jasmine (Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Esther Gohourou, Myriam Hamma) all give excellent believable performances it wouldn’t be totally unbelievable to think they had had experienced similar things in their lives thus far, which gives the film a realistic weight that doesn’t go unnoticed.
A visually beautiful film with lots of colours in the costuming and sets it was unfortunate that the cinematography teetered so uncomfortably on the line between making a point about over sexualised children and over sexualising them. Some of the girls’ dancing scenes lingered far too long in my opinion leaving the film wide open for the criticism it has already received. However, I agree that it needed to be shown because the squirming in your seat is what will make you talk about the film and the issues it’s exploring afterwards. There just didn’t need to be so much of it as the point was already coming across. There were also other controversial moments that had me gasping audibly in my living room which I still haven’t quite decided if they were to the films detriment or benefit.
Cuties is not a cute film; it’s harsh and confronting. It does however make you reflect on your own childhood and how we can improve things for the young girls and boys growing up now. It’s unfortunate that a poster mix up will be mainly responsible for a lot of people not watching this film but I do implore you to reserve your judgement until seeing it yourself and let Maïmouna Doucouré’s debut feature film speak for itself.