by Alia Arafeh
Because of the many people advocating against it, the French film Mignonnes, or Cuties, in English, quickly gained negative attention in the United States. Directed by the Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré, Netflix released the movie in America on Sep. 9. The movie stars Fathia Youssouf as 11-year-old Amy, who moves with her family to a low-income area in France. While initially sheltered and timid, Amy soon befriends the mean girls of her school, who are coincidentally practicing to compete in a dance competition. Amy joins the group, and as a result begins a path of self-discovery and questioning of her own identity and morals.
When controversy over the film first erupted, many people took to the streets to protest a promotional picture that showed the girls in tight-fitting, revealing outfits. These protests continued, and Twitter users also took to critiquing the movie for its so-called vulgar imagery of young girls, as well as the indecent camera angles for the 11-year-olds. At first, I figured that there was no standing for the arguments made by the protestors, but after watching the movie, I developed my own opinions about it.
What angered me most about the movie was the fact that it builds on the common trope of a female oppressed by her religion. Amy’s family is Senegalese-Muslim, and much of the movie is about her leaving the oppressive side of her family and religion. This is an incredibly innacurate depiction of Islam, but it’s disappointingly one that is very common in the worldwide media. Muslims already have a bad reputation in American movies and television, and contributing to this overused storyline to create what is considered a deep and moving escape from oppression is incredibly disrespectful. This movie simply added to some of the common misconceptions about Islamic culture and religion, and protestors did not do enough to address that side of the movie.
In terms of whether or not the movie exploits the girls, there are mixed opinions from many people. Some claim that because the movie is a critique of the sexualization of females in western social media, showing the girls sexualizing themselves was necessary to depict the negative influence of the internet. Others feel that the camera lingering on the girls’ bodies and suggestive angles are too much, as they exploit the girls and border on child pornography.
There is truth to both arguments. The movie ultimately denounces their actions rather than exploiting the girls. The ending shows that Amy wants neither the hyper-sexualization or the oppressive nature of her culture, but instead wants to forge her own path. Regardless of whether or not it is a social commentary, the focus on the girls’ bodies and the elongated dance scenes ultimately made me and many other viewers feel extremely uncomfortable. By showing how the internet affects how the girls view the world and themselves, the director adds depth to the movie; that being said, much of the twerking, dancing, and outfits simply contribute to the sexualization of young girls, which is exactly what Doucouré attempts to condemn.
Yet another gray area is that Cuties is a French movie. French culture is more comfortable with sex and sexuality. The age of consent in France is only 15 years old, and many French filmmakers sexualize children in their movies. In no way do I condone that, but it is a point to consider when reviewing Cuties.
While it does not sexualize the girls as much as many people make it seem, there are faults in the movie, and Netflix should not have released it in America due the cultural differences between America and France and the highly suggestive scenes and behavior exhibited by the girls. Its original message is overshadowed by the age-inappropriate outfits and revealing dance scenes, and the way it depicts Muslims is extremely disappointing. Regardless, I recommend watching the movie to better understand the criticism and formulate your own opinion.
(Sources: Red Scare, Slate Culture, Netflix, IMDB)