Netflix show prompts backlash and a conversation on objectionable content
A Sundance film and the company that bought it is facing backlash for its racy dance scenes involving children
SALT LAKE CITY — Netflix says “Cuties” is about an 11-year-old who rebels against her conservative Muslim family by joining a “free-spirited” dance crew.
Conservatives say that some scenes in the French-African film released Wednesday amount to child pornography, and they are canceling their Netflix accounts.
And they are urging liberals and moderates to join them.
“Do not let political divides steer us away from cancelling ‘Cuties.’ Regardless if you’re voting for Trump or Biden in November, America, stand up for what is right,” wrote Twitter user Michael Phillips, using the hashtag #CancelNetflix, which is trending online.
In taking on Netflix, people disturbed by sexually suggestive content are wielding power they didn’t have a few weeks ago when they were similarly enraged by a profane pop song and video by the rapper Cardi B.
Then, conservatives could only voice their objections, which had the unintended consequence of giving more attention to the song they found offensive. Now they are able to instantly cancel their Netflix account, sending a financial and personal message to the popular streaming service, which has more than 182 million subscribers and added nearly 16 million new accounts during the first three months of the pandemic.
A Netflix spokesperson issue this statement to the Deseret News late Thursday: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. It’s an award winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up - and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
Netflix has already been forced to react to previous complaints related to the coming-of-age film, which won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City earlier this year. After issuing a promotional poster that featured four girls in suggestive poses, the company issued a new poster and apologized in a statement given to Deadline magazine last month.
“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 premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description,” the company’s statement said. The film’s director has said she received death threats because of the poster, which was only released in the U.S., and she said the poster was not representative of the film.
As described by Brian Welk, film reporter for the website Thewrap.com, the film features an 11-year-old girl from Senegal “who tries to escape family dysfunction by joining a free-spirited dance clique named ‘Cuties.’ The group stands in stark contrast to her mother’s traditional values, and she soon becomes aware of her own femininity well beyond her years through dance.”
In the U.S., “Cuties” is rated TV-MA, which indicates that it is for mature audience and may contain indecent language, explicit sexual activity or graphic violence.
A review by David Fear in Rolling Stone called the film “a sensitive portrait of growing pains that deserves to be seen,” saying that “Cuties” was swept into America’s culture wars by “a major marketing mistake.”
The New Yorker also defended the film saying, “it dramatizes the difficulties of growing up female in a sexualized and commercialized media culture.” In fact, The New Yorker’s film critic, Richard Brody, said the film highlights an issue that conservatives care deeply about: the welfare of children in a sexualized culture.
“The subject of ‘Cuties’ isn’t twerking; it’s children, especially poor and nonwhite children, who are deprived of the resources — the education, the emotional support, the open family discussion — to put sexualized media and pop culture into perspective,” Brody wrote.
Conservatives watching clips of the film on social media, however, may be unwilling to look beyond the images of girls touching themselves and writhing suggestively.
Conservative columnist and podcaster Matt Walsh wrote that the film “is a commentary on child sexual exploitation in the same way that ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is a commentary on violence in film. Which is to say, it is not a commentary at all. It is a gratuitous exhibition of the thing it supposedly means to criticize.”
But more than one person has observed that it’s ironic that at the Republican National Convention, conservatives were decrying “cancel culture” while this week they’re canceling Netflix.