A Breakdown of The Controversy Around Netflix’s Cuties

Published on September 24, 2020

Netflix has been facing more controversy than usual lately. The company’s CEO, Ted Sarandos, just received a public letter from United States Senators over one of its shows in-the-works. To this day, the streaming service is still catching heat for their distribution of the acclaimed French comedy, Cuties.

Where the Trouble Began

The problem began when Netflix botched the marketing campaign for the movie. The company’s marketing department set a strange and inappropriate tone for the comedy. There was outrage over the gross poster, which many online accused Netflix of sexualizing children. For a variety of reasons, it was a bad poster. “We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”

What is Cuties?

Long before the controversy began, Cuties was a well-liked comedy at the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, the movie won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award earlier this year at Sundance. The story follows an 11-year-old girl who joins a group of dancers at her school. The film has very positive reviews, too, scoring an 85% on Rottentomatoes. “A thoughtful look at the intricacies of girlhood in the modern age, Cuties is a coming-of-age film that confronts its themes with poignancy and nuance,” according to the review aggregator. 

The Petition

As a result of the terrible piece of marketing, a petition was started asking for Netflix to remove the film. The petition, on Change.org, had over 35,000 signatures before the page was closed. “This movie is disgusting as it sexualizes an 11-year-old for the viewing pleasure of pedophiles and also negatively influences our children,” the petition read. “There is no need for this kind of content in that age group, especially when sex trafficking and pedophilia are so rampant! There is no excuse, this is dangerous content.” The makers of the petition hadn’t seen the movie before starting the petition.

The Director’s Experience

Since the marketing began, the filmmaker has received death threats for her coming-of-age movie. “Things happened fairly quickly because, after the delays, I was completely concentrating on the film’s release in France,” the director said in an interview. “I discovered the poster at the same time as the American public. My reaction? It was a strange experience. I hadn’t seen the poster until after I started getting all these reactions on social media, direct messages from people, attacks on me. I didn’t understand what was going on. That was when I went and saw what the poster looked like.”

According to film critics, the movie does not sexualize children in the way the poster did. “I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hypersexualiation of children,” Doucouré added. “I also received numerous death threats.”

Netflix and the filmmaker have repeatedly defended the movie as “social commentary against the sexualization of young children … a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up.” Critics and most audiences agree, but parent groups do not.

A Letter To Trump

The Parents Television Council (PTC) wants President Donald Trump to request the Department of Justice to investigate Netflix for content the group alleges is sexually exploiting children. The PTC, which only has around 3,000 followers on Twitter and a reported few thousand members, wrote a plea to the president and others.

“Mr. President, more than 30 members of Congress have now spoken out against ‘Cuties,’ and many have called for Congressional hearings or an investigation. But the problem with sexualizing children on Netflix runs deeper than just ‘Cuties,’ ” wrote the PTC head. “There is a strong link between sexualized media and the victimization and exploitation of children.” The letter was addressed to Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Mike, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who all commented on the film and took issue with it. The letter from the PTC also called out the hit animated Netflix show, Big Mouth, which many critics call one of the honest and funniest depictions of puberty. 

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

Read more

More GD News