Looking The Other Way: What the Cuties Haters Missed
“I don’t bother with Netflix anymore,” my massage therapist told me while working on a particularly stubborn knot in my neck.
“Cuties,” she explained.
I’d heard so much about this movie, but only what was wrong with it. Or, not even that much - just that people thought it was worth boycotting Netflix over. D-list celebrity Avery from my un-guilty trash TV pleasure 90-Day Fiance posted about it on Instagram, calling for Netflix to take Cuties down. She cited 9 million cancelled subscriptions, claiming they’d all been due to the title.
Detractors seemed to believe it glorified child pornography, as much as I could figure. I pictured some kind of American docuseries, but Netflix didn’t make Cuties. It’s a French film that follows the story of 11-year-old Amy, whose Senegalese father is about to bring a second wife into their Parisian home. Neglected by her parents and parentified as the caretaker of her little brother, Amy seeks independence with a group of girls in her new class. Calling themselves “Les Mignonnes,” they dream of the day they’ll dance on the stage of “the Concourse” in Paris. Similarly to the main character in the American movie “Thirteen,” Amy gradually changes her look and mannerisms to match the cool kids she wishes to be accepted by.
I saw a lot of parallels with my own life as an adolescent, from around 9 to 14 years old - dressing sexually in crop tops and short shorts, the ever-changing dynamics of frenemy girl groups, absent family members, and even the choreographed dances. ‘This is normal,’ I kept thinking to myself. Waiting for the moment when I’d see what all those supposed 9 million unsubscribers saw. But instead what I saw was a beautiful, nuanced depiction of a second-generation African desperately seeking acceptance in the space between two cultures.
Many were disgusted enough by this film to “cancel” a whole company just for allowing it on their platform, among nearly 14,000 other titles. But what disgusts me is how quickly these haters look the other way. The same way people did when I was that age. Amy was fortunate enough to have enough familial support, at least in the end, to withstand the societal pressures to take off your clothes for love.
Like much of French cinema, Cuties is a work of art. Which means you may need to know how to look beneath the surface to see its beauty - but don’t assume just because you didn’t live the story that it’s not true. Cancel culture wants nothing more than a button to push to erase all social ills. But it’s not that simple. Like Amy’s grandmother towards the end of the film, many make the mistake of demanding adolescents simply fall in line, without holding up the grown up’s part of the deal, to legitimately care for their happiness and respect who they are becoming. If we as a society - and even more, as individuals - can accomplish this, maybe we won’t need to see another Cuties. But until then, we need to be willing to take a hard look at the reality we have. Hating Netflix isn’t going to give young girls the love, support, and acceptance they need. There’s no block button for pedophilia, which after all most often occurs within the family. But if those of us who feel anger watching a film like this can direct it in the right places - through legitimate activism, through mentoring, through our own parenting and supporting the kids (girls, boys, and all genders) in our lives - we may stand a chance against those problems we wish would just disappear.
In the mean time, I’m letting my massage therapist know she might want to try watching the film.