The Cuties controversy will probably seem overblown once you actually watch the film, and if you take issue with this point being made here, you obviously haven’t seen it. Netflix messed up royally by choosing a provocative image to market the movie (and they deserved to be called out for it) but the subsequent boycott barrage will again, seem ridiculous once you actually see it. This is coming from the mother of a young girl about the same age as the actresses shown, and an over-protective mama lion at that.
The English translation of Mignonnes – as the Sundance award winning French film was originally called – Cuties is not some Dance Moms-style documentary that sexualizes young girls by showing them twerk and grind in gaudy costumes (as everyone who hasn’t seen it seems to think it is). Rather, it is an artful and complex look at how pop culture can confuse and corrupt youth, making kids (girls) seek this kind of attention for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it’s about what is happening at home and sometimes it’s about emerging hormones. Sometimes it’s simply the alluring way women present themselves in music videos.
In the case of 11-year-old Amy (Fathia Youssouf), Cuties‘ protagonist, it seems to be all of the above. Growing up in a strict Sengalese Muslim household and watching her mother struggle alone in France after her father abandons her, Amy finds acceptance and a way to express herself hanging with a squad of schoolmates trying to be hip-hop dancers, and calling themselves “Cuties.” But these “cool girls” aren’t necessarily the bad influence we think they’re gonna be; it’s Amy who takes the troupe into a tacky, twerky direction when she steals a cell phone and starts copying what she sees in music videos.
French-Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré clearly has a statement to make here and she makes it with a couple of truly uncomfortable dance montages that we’ll admit are tough to watch. Clearly that’s the point. Watching the subtitled film after hearing about the backlash, we did wish that perhaps a few scenes were edited so as not to focus on the young girls bodies as they danced. Pervs and pedos who watch it might in fact get turned on, and as a parent we had to ask ourselves if the message was worth it. But as our very wise 13-year-old reminded us, “we all see much worse on Instagram and Tik Tok” (true) and “if they didn’t show it like that maybe it wouldn’t make the point as powerfully?”
On this, we’re simply not sure, but Cuties continued a dialog we’ve been having with our daughter about the challenges and feelings involved as one transitions from child to woman. The in-between part is rough (we remember from experience) and Cuties taps into this in a brutal way that brought tears to our eyes, as it unapologetically exposed how societal influences can lead to pressure, bad judgment and in some cases, even put young girls in danger. Like we said, this ain’t Dance Moms, and truth be told, it’s far, far less offensive.