In the midst of a global pandemic, a heated yet depressing election year, hurricanes, protests and deadly fires, it’s difficult for anything else to make headlines right now.
However, the mother of all streaming platforms, Netflix, has managed to do so with the film Cuties. It’s use of an ill-advised provocative poster and description resulted with the hashtags #CancelNetflix and #BoycottNetflix trending before people had a chance to watch the film.
Cuties is the feature debut of Senegalese-French director, Maïmouna Doucouré, and follows eleven-year-old Aminata struggling to reconcile her traditional Muslim upbringing with a world that pressures girls to be sexy at a young age.
Aminata, whose name is anglicized to Amy, lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Paris with her strict religious mother and two younger siblings. At home, she is bogged down by the responsibility of helping her mother as her father takes a second wife. At school, she admires the rebellious dance crew “cuties” and the freedom they have to be provocative and defy authority. As a result, Amy juggles trying to be sexy the way she believes will make her popular, listening to her aunt hammer her with extreme religious values, and doing childish activities such as eating too much candy until she gets a head rush.
At its core, the film is a coming of age comedy-drama that holds a cultural mirror to the hyper-sexualization of young girls in a world where likes and views are the social currency for self-esteem. Unfortunately, that message was lost when Netflix decided to use a controversial poster to market the film to a wider audience.
Maybe they felt stating the film won the Directing Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival wouldn’t draw as much of an audience as a picture with little girls dressed in booty shorts, posing like video vixens. After all, the likes, comments and followers on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube have consistently proven that the sexier girls are, especially if they’re younger, the more attention and power they get.
This might be a hard truth to face for a lot of people but consider the fact that 53% of American children have a smartphone by age eleven, and 24-hour monitoring from parents is impossible. And although social media sites have rules concerning age and material, kids always find ways to circumvent them. Perhaps what’s most disheartening about the Cuties backlash, is that just this summer, people were up in arms calling for more opportunities for artists of color, such as Doucouré, a Black French-Senegalese woman, to be able to tell their stories.
Now that she has told a gut wrenching tale that highlights the difficulties immigrant children face while living in the Western world, people want to silence her voice. Yes, the film makes some people uncomfortable, as it should. It forces the audience to re-examine the intense amount of pressure young girls face starting from a young age: be more sexy for acceptance or adhere to conservative norms and risk being left on the sidelines. However, it is not a reason to send Doucouré death threats or for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to send a letter to the Justice Department calling for an investigation on whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.
Sen. Cruz and others are entitled to their criticism of the film but using his platform to do so is irresponsible and hypocritical when he is on a list of twenty names that President Trump is apparently considering for future Supreme Court vacancies. If Sen. Cruz doesn't see a problem being appointed by someone who once said Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile, was a "terrific guy" and sent well wishes to his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, he has no leg to stand on criticizing this film.
Netflix’s disastrous marketing approach should not be a reason to boycott a streaming service that has given numerous opportunities to people of color. Even before Hollywood was promising to add more Black creatives to their projects, the streaming service had a track record with "Black Lightning," "Orange Is The New Black," "Green Leaf" "Family Reunion." Not to mention content from Africa such as "Blood & Water," Kalushi Okafor’s Law, and Potato Potahto.
They’ve been putting their money where their mouth is long before it became a trend.
Sonia Grace earned a Bachelors’ degree from the University Of Iowa before relocating to California. Grace is a founding member of the Rebel Writers Group, an organization that offers guidance and information to aspiring authors.