Film & TV

Review: Cuties

Cuties (2020) Photo credits: Netflix, Variety

By Summer Griffin

★★

This was not what I expected from a film called Cuties. It was about as far from cute as a film could get. I went into this film not knowing anything about the subject matter or the controversy surrounding it. Honestly, I was just a French language student excited for a new French film release. When I read the description of the film on Netflix, I got the impression that I was about to watch a French tween version of Step Up. The film follows 11-year-old Amy, a Senegalese immigrant in France, as she joins tween dance troupe Cuties in their mission to win a Parisian dance contest. This is not a cute dance flick. This film deals with uncomfortable, heavy topics, and it doesn’t treat them with the sensitivity that they require. 

Cuties led to #cancelNetflix trending on Twitter in the US. There is one reason for this: the hyper sexualisation of children. There are two main arguments filling up the internet about Cuties. On one side, people are outraged. The film exploits and sexualises 11-year-old girls. It is a film that many people say apologises for paedophilia. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the film is showing the reality of our society, and that it is presenting this issue in order to condemn the hyper sexualisation of young girls. Some say that we need to open our eyes, that to denounce this film as apologising for paedophilia, is shooting the messenger. This is a film made to make people uncomfortable in order to make a point. I believe that the intention of director Maïmouna Doucouré was to present this as an issue that needs to be addressed within society. In interviews, she has explained that much of the film is based on her own experiences as a young Senegalese girl in France. She shows young girls dancing in an overly sexual manner in order to draw attention to a growing trend in society that she herself has experienced. Children are being influenced by social media and music videos to aspire to being sexy, well before adulthood. 

However, this is a very sensitive subject matter, and it could have been handled better. It does deserve the level of controversy it has attracted. Lengthy dance sequences with camera angles focused on the young girl’s crotches seemed gratuitous; they took it too far. There were moments that definitely crossed the line from representing the reality of society, to exploiting the young actresses in the movie. Treated with more care and sensitivity this could have been a huge success and effectively highlighted an important societal issue, but it missed the mark. 

Unfortunately, due to the controversy surrounding hyper sexualisation, the second key theme of the film has been largely overlooked in the media. The film centres on a Senegalese family living in France. The family has been rocked by the father’s choice to take a second wife and this leads to much of the central conflict of the film. Young Amy struggles with her family situation and tries to reconcile her family’s culture, with the culture of their new home: France. This aspect of the film was brilliantly executed. The experience of being from neither here nor there is common to a growing number of people in the modern world. Maïmouna Doucouré beautifully portrays the difficulty of reconciling two very different cultures, and I am sure this will be largely appreciated by countless second-generation immigrants. 

Overall, this was a disappointing movie. Not because it wasn’t beautifully directed, not because the young actresses weren’t brilliant, and not because the plot was uninteresting and irrelevant. Cuties succeeded in all of these areas.

What let the film down was its clumsy handling of a topic which needed to be treated with the utmost care. Do better, Cuties.

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