WASHINGTON — The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which seeks to expose “the links between all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation,” has released a statement calling for Netflix to either cut “particularly sexually-exploitative scenes” from the controversial film “Cuties” — which the director claims was meant to shed light on the dangers of sexualizing young girls in today’s society — or cease making the movie available for viewing.
“While we commend Director Maïmouna Doucouré for exposing the very real threats to young girls having unfettered access to social media and the internet, we cannot condone the hyper-sexualization and exploitation of the young actresses themselves in order to make her point,” Lina Nealon, director of corporate and strategic initiatives, said on Friday.
As previously reported, according to Doucouré, the French-made film “Cuties” seeks to address the negative influence sensual role models and social media have on pre-adolescent females by telling the story of an 11-year-old Senegalese Muslim immigrant, named Amy, who joins a girls twerking dance troupe in Paris as a means to fit in.
She also finds herself dressing more provocatively and sharing pictures of herself, including those of her private parts, to gain attention and approval. According to Plugged In, the girls additionally watch pornography together (not pictured) and have graphic sexual discussions.
At one point, Amy is dared to take a photo of a boy while he is using the restroom so they can see his reproductive organs, and in another scene, a girl blows up a condom, not knowing what it is. Amy unbuttons her clothes to offer herself to her cousin in exchange for keeping his phone, thinking that sex will get her places. Profanity is used in the production, including by the children.
Director Doucouré explained that the movie was birthed out of similarly seeing young girls dancing in a sexual manner and becoming concerned about youth copying the sensual messages in entertainment and social media. She then spent over a year interviewing girls about how they view femininity and decided to create the film as a form of “activism” against the sexualization of youth.
“Our girls see that the more a girl is overly-sexualized on social media, the more she is successful. And children just imitate what they see trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning. And, yeah, it’s dangerous,” she said in a video shared by Netflix.
“My one message would be that childhood is precious and we all have to protect our children,” she told Shadow and Act. “We all have to come together to figure out what is best for our children so that we can give a beautiful space to our children to grow up safely and peacefully, so that they can have the freedom to choose who they want to become and the best version of themselves.”
However, as the drama itself uses 11-year-old girls who speak graphic words, act out sexually-related scenes, and engage in various sexually-charged dance moves, from twerking to touching their private parts — all clearly captured on camera and in the face of the viewer — and even reportedly includes one scene where the girls are watching a video in which part of a teen’s chest is exposed, the movie has been considered counter-productive to many.
“I think the director meant to spark thoughtful discussion about how we should protect our children against these constant pressures. But while that’s a laudable goal, the film’s path to it is still deeply problematic — which brings us right back to where we started,” wrote Plugged In reviewer Kristin Smith. “[D]oes anyone of any age really need to see such a graphic portrayal of this problem to know how damaging it is to young girls growing up in this toxic cultural fog today?”
“‘Cuties’ may try, on some level, to critique the sexualization of young girls. But it does so by taking a group of young girls and objectifying them through their dance movements, revealing clothing and life choices,” she said. “The film gratuitously, excessively indulges in the very images and ideas it’s supposedly criticizing.”
“To say that the result is a mixed message is an understatement indeed.”
“The audience does not need to see the very long scenes with close-up shots of the girls’ bodies; this does nothing to educate the audience on the harms of sexualization,” Nealon also said. “And to showcase sexual exploitation of children in a film while saying that this is a ‘powerful story,’ as Netflix has said, is nothing short of corporate malfeasance.”
As previously reported, Sen. Tex Cruz, R-Texas, has even written to Attorney General William Barr to ask that the film and Netflix be investigated to see if any laws against child pornography were violated.
“[I]t is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and initiate this film in abusive ways,” he wrote.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also wrote to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to find out how the company vetted the production.
“Did Netflix, at any point, take measures to ensure the protection of the physical, mental and emotional health of child actors made to perform simulated sex acts and filmed in sexual or sexually suggestive ways?” he inquired in part.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation says that Netflix should either have the concerning scenes edited out or pull the movie from its platform.
“Netflix could and should insist that the particularly sexually-exploitative scenes are cut from the film, or stop hosting this film at all,” Nealon stated.
“Netflix wants to have its cake and eat it too: it’s underwriting a coming-of-age story by a woman of color, which is laudable, but it has given a home to a film that depicts the over-sexualization of children in a way that adds to the problem of child sexual exploitation.”
Netflix has defended the film because of its message, stating that “‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children” and “we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
Doucouré also told Zora, “I created a climate of trust between the children and myself. I explained to them everything I was doing and the research that I had done before I wrote this story. I was also lucky that these girls’ parents were also activists, so we were all on the same side.”
“At their age, they’ve seen this kind of dance. Any child with a telephone can find these images on social media these days. However, these were composite shots, so the girls weren’t dancing like that all the time,” she said. “We also worked with a child psychologist throughout the filming. She’s still working with the children, because I want to make sure that they can navigate this newfound stardom.”
700 girls auditioned for the part of Amy, which is played by Fathia Youssouf Abdillahi.
The hastag #CancelNetflix has reportedly been spreading on social media. A petition on Change.org also seeks to implore the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to investigate Netflix for distributing “inappropriate content involving minors.”
Psalm 119:9 says, “Wherewithal shall a young man (or woman) cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word.”