How a French movie became part of America’s culture war
September 13, 2020 1:02 PM   Subscribe

A movie critiquing the sexualization of young girls is accused of doing the thing it criticizes. Here’s how the controversy started — and why it matters. (Vox)

US politicians from Ted Cruz to Tulsi Gabbard have railed against it, death threats have been sent to its director, websites like IMDB, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have been flooded with negative reviews before it was even released, a related campaign to #cancelnetflix has been trending and a petition to remove the film from Netflix has racked up more than half a million signatures. How did the remarkable award-winning debut of French-Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré,Mignonnes (Cuties), a feminist film about the multiple patriarchal pressures on young girls growing up in a multicultural context, get to be at the center of such an American controversy? Spoilers: apart from Netflix initially bungling its marketing materials thus giving fuel to the moral panic, it also has to do with QAnon...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Doucouré defends her film – “I just hope that these people will watch the film, because then they will realise we are actually on the same side of this battle against the hypersexualization of children" – which also has the support of the French government, who have expressed their wish to use Cuties as an educational tool for teachers, and have invited her to be part of a working group to combat the hypersexualization of children in society. Sundance, which awarded Doucouré with a Best Director award last February, also stands fully behind Doucouré amid the controversy:

“We are relying on our audiences to have intelligent conversations that are directly related to the films after they have seen the films”.

(If you read French, there’s a nice interview in Paris Match too.)
posted by bitteschoen (58 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
(To be precise, it wasn't exactly a Best Director award the film won at Sundance, it was the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award)
posted by bitteschoen at 1:36 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


When an oh-so-clever marketing campaign earns your film's director death threats.
posted by tclark at 1:37 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


This movie ain't on my watch list. I didn't think the final dance scene in "Little Miss Sunshine" was cute or funny, just inappropriate.
posted by PhineasGage at 1:49 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Yes, so when designing movie posters probably best to stay away from pre-teen girls slapping their own ass doggie stye.

Now lets go back to pretending The Professional isn't about a pedophile but a guy who likes drinking lots of milk.
posted by geoff. at 1:55 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


This all seems like such a throwback to all those 80s panics about the NEA, D&D and music lyrics but then magnified by the stupidity of the Internet.
posted by octothorpe at 1:59 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Ain't no panic dumber than a moral panic.

This is the ACORN attack of film criticism.

It deserves really hard pushback.
posted by srboisvert at 2:12 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


This all seems like such a throwback to all those 80s panics about the NEA, D&D and music lyrics but then magnified by the stupidity of the Internet.

Long before then, I recall foaming-at-the-mouth christians demanding The Exorcist be banned because it glorified satan. Who, y’know, is defeated in the end.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


It actually is on my watch list. It sounds kinda unpleasant, but it also sounds like it has a thesis, which is that it's really easy for little girls who are rejecting one kind of patriarchal oppression to unintentionally flee into the arms of a completely different kind of patriarchal oppression. And that sounds potentially interesting. Definitely too subtle for the right-wing culture warriors, even before you get into the unhinged conspiracy theorists, but potentially interesting.

Tulsi Gabbard is going to go full QAnon, isn't she?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:18 PM on September 13 [38 favorites]


it also sounds like it has a thesis, which is that it's really easy for little girls who are rejecting one kind of patriarchal oppression to unintentionally flee into the arms of a completely different kind of patriarchal oppression

I'm not about to boycott Wayfair for shipping kids in credenzas, but the film marketing I've seen seemed to focus on the sexualization-as-empowerment hard enough that I really wasn't interested in exploring it further to see if it went any deeper, because it just felt gross.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:33 PM on September 13 [12 favorites]


The rhetoric around the criticism of the movie--that if you're uncomfortable with it, if you think it's immoral, if you think it's problematic from a feminist perspective, then you're republican, probably QAnon--is astonishing to me. Why cede moral ground to Nazis? Why not admit that films with good intentions can be problematic? And that those problems can be exploited for profitable controversy? Yet suddenly if you object to this kind of portrayal of kids, you're parochial, you're not smart enough to understand film, you're clearly conservative.
posted by mittens at 2:40 PM on September 13 [28 favorites]


I have vague memories of the JonBenét Ramsey case, and the sense that views of the young girl beauty pageant world she participated in varied sharply along class/cultural lines.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:47 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Long before then, I recall foaming-at-the-mouth christians demanding The Exorcist be banned because it glorified satan. Who, y’know, is defeated in the end.

It’s been observed that the only sin the Catholic Church has ever succeeded in stamping out is the selling of indulgences, which interestingly is the only sin they ever manufactured.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:48 PM on September 13 [13 favorites]


I mean, it's fine with me if people who have seen the movie think that it has problems. But so far, the people I trust who have seen the movie have not agreed with the criticisms. And most of the people attacking it have not seen the movie. Plus, I am pretty repulsed by the idea that I have to agree with Nazis or I'm ceding moral ground to them. These people are not arguing in good faith, and I don't trust their judgment, particularly when it comes to art that is produced by black, feminist, French women.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:51 PM on September 13 [82 favorites]


The venn diagram of people railing against this and people who have purchased or placed their own children in shirts reading "daddy says I can't date till I'm 30" and "boob man" for infant boys has to be just about a perfect circle.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:01 PM on September 13 [19 favorites]


Why not admit that films with good intentions can be problematic?

Sure. But the poster was like 3x as problematic as the movie.
posted by GuyZero at 3:24 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


These people are not arguing in good faith, and I don't trust their judgment, particularly when it comes to art that is produced by black, feminist, French women.

This.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:49 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


Most of the negative criticism - from actual film critics, not nut jobs - that I’ve seen has been along the lines of the movie has some important things to say about young girls, societal pressure, and religion, but good lord couldn’t they have cut down on the lurid dance competition scenes? People just don’t like to feel uncomfortable, but sometimes the discomfort is part of the point. (I haven’t watched it yet)
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:57 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


I don't care a tenth as much about how uncomfortable audiences feel as I care about the child actors in this movie being exploited in service of the moviemaker's thesis. You want to tell this kind of story and portray children in these kinds of ways? Fine, do it with animation or CGI or adult actors. Children cannot consent to being sexualized on screen and neither should anyone be allowed to consent on any child's behalf.

For the record, I'm about as much in disagreement with people who would buy "daddy says I can't date till I'm 30" and "boob man" shirts as I am with people who think it's okay to sexualize real children on screen for any reason. Jesus fucking Christ. It should not be this controversial to say children deserve basic protections in the movie business.

But the poster was like 3x as problematic as the movie.

How is that a defense of anything?
posted by MiraK at 4:31 PM on September 13 [18 favorites]


views of the young girl beauty pageant world she participated in varied sharply along class/cultural lines.

Well, yeah. Class and culture are significant determinants of how normalized sexual objectification of women and girls is in your life. That doesn't make us elitist or classist if we object to objectification! It just means that among the oppressions that come with the package of classism is the normalization of gendered objectification. Objectification is always bad.

Why not admit that films with good intentions can be problematic? And that those problems can be exploited for profitable controversy?

Indeed. The fact that this movie purports to be feminist and is made by a Black woman does make it necessary for us to make sure our criticism isn't aimed at something we let other people off the hook for. But I don't see an epidemic of white male directors being lauded for sexualizing young girls. (Little Miss Sunshine had its share of controversy, as I recall, and our era has seen consciousness raised by #metoo which justifies increased scrutiny now.) There's nothing problematic about bringing this movie maker to task, because we're not practicing double standards afaik.
posted by MiraK at 4:43 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


I have not seen the publicity for this movie, but have watched the movie itself. The unambiguous message I got was that, no matter how much you are bombarded by sexy images on instagram, tiktok, and youtube, trying to act like an edgy, sexy dancing girl when you are only 11 years old will not bring you happiness or the admiration of anyone.

There is nothing in the movie that your average 11 year old will not have seen already, which is sad in itself, but I'm really not sure how they could have told the story without it. It's pretty clear that the young characters are all doing an imitation of something they've seen without fully understanding the implications. I wish there was more discussion about what kids are being exposed to everywhere without a second thought, not just in this movie.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:48 PM on September 13 [43 favorites]


And most of the people attacking it have not seen the movie.

Also worth noting these same people complain incessantly about "cancel culture", while pushing their own version of that upon everyone.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:00 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Ted Cruz isn't just making false claims about the content, he's dragging Obama (and by extension, the Democrats) into a fake culture war that "just happens" to be QAnon adjacent.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:20 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Also worth noting these same people complain incessantly about "cancel culture"

The venn diagram of people railing against this and people who have purchased or placed their own children in shirts

Whoa! The people who disagree with me on this topic are exactly the kind of person I disagree with in random unrelated X, Y, and Z ways too! And I feel zero need to substantiate this venn diagram I drew from pure imagination! This circle speaks for itself.
posted by MiraK at 5:23 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I haven't seen the film, but from reading quotes from the filmmaker, I am curious. She basically said it is a reflection of her own experience growing up and all of the complicated shit she had to navigate/process. I want stories that explore that and are centered on the girls. So tired of girls as vessels/plot points in films.

Like how much shit did this film maker have to power through to make a film as a French-Senegalese woman and now she gets QAnonned because of Netflix's sensationalist shitty marketing?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:27 PM on September 13 [20 favorites]


American cultural attitudes about sexuality (and also drugs, & things) are bifurcated, they swing wildly between extremes of puritanism & porno-ism, it makes me dizzy.
posted by ovvl at 5:38 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]



I don't care a tenth as much about how uncomfortable audiences feel as I care about the child actors in this movie being exploited in service of the moviemaker's thesis.


FWIW, the director addresses this. Among other things, all the actors saw a psychologist both during the movie, and also after release to help them navigate the impact of suddenly being so much in the public eye.
posted by subdee at 6:03 PM on September 13 [15 favorites]


The rhetoric around the criticism of the movie--that if you're uncomfortable with it, if you think it's immoral, if you think it's problematic from a feminist perspective, then you're republican, probably QAnon--is astonishing to me.

Have you seen it? I haven’t, and I don’t really blame people for having a low opinion based on the posters and even the trailers. But if these articles are suggesting the promotional materials are doing it a disservice I don’t feel like I’m in any place to have an opinion about that not having seen it. And lots of people are having opinions about this not having seen it, so I’m sympathetic to the possibility that Netflix and co. may have just really fucked things up for this first-time director.
posted by atoxyl at 6:05 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Feels like we're in one of those mass hysteria periods of history again
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:06 PM on September 13 [13 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie either BTW, but in S. Korea they call this kind of strategy of deliberately calling attention to controversy / creating extra controversy to gain more attention "noise marketing" and it's pretty low. And I don't think most qanon folks would really care about a French film-festival-winning film by a rookie director, even one that's on Netflix, if it wasn't deliberately being brought to their attention for them to get outraged over.
posted by subdee at 6:09 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


strategy of deliberately calling attention to controversy / creating extra controversy to gain more attention

Exactly. This is the reason why I have so little sympathy for the movie maker: this seems to be stone cold profiteering at the expense of the child actors.
posted by MiraK at 6:20 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


That's not at all what I said, I was referring to the marketing. The film is commentary on something that already exists, like Thirteen. On twitter they are pointing out that Dance Moms ran for eight seasons and was only cancelled bc of covid. Toddlers and Tiaras launched Honey Boo Boo's career. There are preteens on tiktok figuring out they can get hits for this.

The idea that we can have a society that sexualizes young girls and rewards them for acting sexually, but not make movies about it is just crazy. Getting rid of the art that tries to do social commentary won't get rid of the phenomenon it will just get rid of the social commentary.
posted by subdee at 6:36 PM on September 13 [71 favorites]


Funny how so many arch-conservatives have a pulse on what will excite pedophiles...
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:00 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


good lord couldn’t they have cut down on the lurid dance competition scenes?

I just finished watching it and the dance competition scene was about three minutes of an 1h30 movie and when it is not just a still, out of context image chosen for a Netflix poster the scene comes across VERY differently (I won't spoil it in the hopes that people will actually watch it before arguing about it on the internet). There are quite a few rehearsal scenes but the message in these (and the whole movie) is that the girls are mimicking something they do not actually understand because it is what they are seeing online and around them; a classic story of girls wanting to grow up too soon.

The other important distinction is that this is a movie by a Black woman and the any "sexy" scenes are extremely not from the male gaze but instead serve to underline how out of their element these young girls are, how awkward and unnatural and devoid of real meaning their actions to mimic older girls and women truly are. Any reading into their actions as "sexy" is on the audience somehow finding something that way that is very much NOT so, i.e. blaming the movie for the feelings and actions of pedophiles.

Overall the movie kind of reminded me of Kids. It's uncomfortable, sure, but not what it's being painted as.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:01 PM on September 13 [33 favorites]


I forgot to say: it's a good movie and very thought provoking. I recommend it.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:02 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I don't think most qanon folks would really care about a French film-festival-winning film by a rookie director, even one that's on Netflix

Oh I disagree. I think the QAnon folks (and the conservative media folk who rile them up) are actively looking for anything they can use to bludgeon Obama and the libs, and that this film comes from a black French-Senegalese woman is perfect to get their mouths watering.

this seems to be stone cold profiteering at the expense of the child actors

That seems like a big leap to make without any, you know, proof, especially since you criticized others in this very thread for making assumptions based on personal opinion rather than evidence.

Did this director have any say in the marketing campaign? Was the marketing campaign in France similarly "titillating" in tone? Is the director making tons of money b/c of the controversy? Is it likely that a woman with her history is keen to make herself an international target for death threats and harassment? It seems like we'd need answers to those before we accuse the filmmaker of pimping out children for her own selfish purposes. (and also, maybe, ya know, actually see the movie first, or at least get context from sources more reliable than dipshits like Cruz and Gabbard)
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:27 PM on September 13 [21 favorites]


> Was the marketing campaign in France similarly "titillating" in tone?

The Deadline article showed the most striking difference, between the French poster and the original Netflix poster. The official trailer in France is the same as the one that Netflix has been using, and I would not describe it as “titillating” at all. Here's the marketing still from the French distributor.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:54 PM on September 13 [16 favorites]


I don’t think the trailer is “titillating” but I do think it makes the depiction of the conflict between “liberated” and “traditional” values look a little less nuanced than these articles make it sound. But maybe that’s just the catchy soundtrack.
posted by atoxyl at 8:40 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Apology to MiraK for unnecessary snark and self-righteousness in my last post.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:52 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Toddlers and Tiaras launched Honey Boo Boo's career.

It's worse than that. Honey Boo Boo was the star of a spin off of Toddler and Tiaras "Here comes Honey Boo Boo". That show was cancelled when it turned out that Honey Boo Boo's mother, June, was seen with a man who had molested one of her daughters. It turns out that the father of some of Junes children was also a sex offender. So a show based on creepy sexualization of children, a cast member who gravitates to men who'll molest them, it should be over right? After all we're all about saving the children. Nope. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo gets cancelled. June pops up with another show a year or two later which is still running.

There's a good chance you already know this story because it played out in full view of the tabloid press. Tulsi Gabbard doesn't have to call out every problematic cultural product but it is peculiar that she choose Cuties to make her point. It looks to me that Cuties problem was that it attempted to talk about a problem rather than exploiting it. Plus there's the whole wink to QAnon thing.
posted by rdr at 8:54 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


I won't spoil it in the hopes that people will actually watch it before arguing about it on the internet

I appreciate your optimism but I'm afraid that ship has long since sailed.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:24 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Never have I favorited more comments, all with different takes on the post, than this one...
posted by Windopaene at 9:33 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


[nah, Saxon Kane, your point was well taken, I shouldn't have said that it was profiteering]

So I looked up some of the internet outrage over this topic, and ugh, it certainly seems like y'all are right and I was wrong. The rhetoric being thrown around over this is wildly out of proportion compared to, say, Toddlers and Tiaras-type shows which are a lot worse than whatever is in this movie. I'm not about to enthusiastically support sexualizing little girls in movies no matter what the cause, no matter what the precautions taken... but there sure seems to be a double standard at play here, and given the QAnon involvement, much of this is obviously politically and racially motivated.
posted by MiraK at 6:49 AM on September 14 [20 favorites]


I watched it because I woke up on Friday to outraged texts from my family about how they were all canceling netflix because of it (they are big time Trump people). Personally I agree wholeheartedly with the Vox article. I thought it was an interesting and well done movie, though it was certainly uncomfortable and definitely toed a line at times.

I guess it just seems outrageous to me that Trump used to own Miss Teen USA and has been accused by several former contestants of walking through the dressing room while they were changing and in fact Trump himself has bragged on live radio about doing this sort of thing, so when my Trump loving family and Ted Cruz get all outraged over this movie it is hard for me to believe that they actually give two flying fucks about pedophilia. My mom told me she was just upset about children being exploited and I was like ok, keep that in mind in November when you re-elect the guy who likes to put children in cages.

In my experience, the evangelical christian types like to get morally outraged over these types of things because they are easy and convenient and do not require them to face any very difficult truths about our society or put in any real work to change things and make them better for people and they just love to get sanctimonious for five minutes about something. And fuck, if this wasn't by a Black, French, immigrant and about how religion oppresses women my guess is they'd be a lot less upset.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:59 AM on September 14 [24 favorites]


Well, I started reading the comments and before I hit 2 dozen realized: time to watch this film.

Deactivated the reddit yesterday, MeFi is all I have left now. This veritable frenzy of a discussion puts a film on my radar that I may not have checked out otherwise, but by the same token.. Yes, I tend to think the thesis of "/the social dilemma_" is pretty accurate.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:50 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Everybody who can read MeFi sees the same thing. Same applies to Keybase teams. This is exactly why these are the only social media I'm active on. I'm also about to watch this film only because it got exposure here.
posted by flabdablet at 7:56 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


A couple more interviews with the director that I’d heartily recommend reading, before or especially after watching the movie – this one from Cineuropa, another from Zora, and another on Refinery29.

Also, an interesting comment I found on reddit here from a Muslim European woman commenter. I asked myself the same question she asks: "If you want to make a movie that represents this [street dance] culture, is it really inherently wrong that they showed it the way it truly is?" I grew up in a different context myself and long before smartphones and social media and twerking and reggaeton, but while watching the movie I could relate a lot to that portrayal of a group of young girls acting out in a sexualized way as a misguided attempt to rebel against a conservative religious family environment. If your intent is didactic, as it clearly is for this director, how do you portray that without portraying it? You can’t make a documentary out of a story like that, not without running into much bigger issues... And it wouldn’t have the impact of a narrative story told and viewed from the perspective of the girls themselves.

By the way: suggesting like Ted Cruz does that the very existence of this movie violated not just ethics but American laws equals implying that France itself (and the EU at large!) has no ethical codes and no laws that would apply to filming with children. Something else worth thinking about.
posted by bitteschoen at 8:06 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


I have not seen this film, nor even watched the trailer. I did see the hashtag crop up and looked into it, and could tell I was only seeing one side of things and closed it pretty quickly to give time before hasty opinions could form.

I have, however, seen Little Miss Sunshine twice: Once before I was a parent, and once with my daughter, who does competitive dance. The difference in my reactions to it is something I tend to think about occasionally!

When I first saw it with Mrs. Hobo, we loved the film overall, and fell right into the shock of the backstage scenes at the pageant. When I saw it with Mrs. Hobo and our daughter, we had all spent time backstage at dance competitions, so some of it was less shocking to us. I recommend the film to everyone, so if you haven't seen it you can skip my post for spoilers!

First of all, costumes and makeup designed for stage are just... more. The kind of makeup that survives harsh lights and a 20m distance from the nearest viewer looks clownish close up under fluorescents. That's just a fact of stagecraft. And costumes for dance tend to be cut to permit movements that a pair of jeans would prevent, so you are going to get something that shows a lot of leg and maybe highlights all the movement through sequins or other eye-catching sparkly adornments. So a lot of the quick cuts in the film that had big hair, makeup, and gaudy costumes read to us the second time as "heh, yeah, backstage everything is so much more camp, isn't it?"

But we're used to dance competitions rather than beauty pageants, so the moments like the swimsuit section in the film gave us all the yikes. The competitions run by dance schools in England tend to have judges who rate pieces partly on "age-appropriateness". In general this means that a group doing an alluring rendition of a number from Chicago or Cabaret or something is going to be docked points if they're under 18.

This goes further, and our kid did a sort of Bond-film-opening tap routine to Tank! by Yoko Kanno (theme song to Cowboy Bebop). It was a great dance with a lot of polyrhythms and easy to prepare for because it was a basic black suit with tap shoes, but the fact that she made finger-pistols at one point got it knocked down for being age-inappropriate. A lot of that is on the judge, and this was one who explicitly told us that young girls should be dancing with pretty bows and teddy bears and things.

And yes, we've seen primary school children perform song-and-dance routines that took more inspiration from burlesque than any of us were comfortable with. But in that world you're spending so much effort thinking "OK, yikes, that's probably going to lose points for age-appropriateness, but she's got a really clear voice despite the song's broad range, and this judge likes that level of facial expressions, and her timing is perfect, and..." and all you really care about at that point is "will this hurt or help my own child's ranking in the judging?" And since it's all a game of judging, you do find yourself walking away after with a question of "What were that kid's parents or dance school thinking with that number?"

I keep thinking of the weak joke everyone makes about the definition of pornography: "we'll know it when we see it." But the formal definitions always do hinge on the word "prurient", which itself is usually defined by terms that ultimately are defined by the word "pornographic". And I did disagree with the judge who thought that nine-year-old girls should stick to ribbons and flowers, but I was relieved that other judges quietly refused to let some acts place despite the performers' obvious display of skill.

As a culture we're struggling to sail between the scylla of objectification and the charybdis of repression. Both ways have dangers.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 9:09 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


I think that for white male patriarchy, any woman talking about, in control of, enjoying, defining etc. her own sexuality -- especially a black woman -- is by definition "prurient" and "pornographic" (see also the WAP phenomenon).
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:55 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Seems to me what's pornographic about WAP is the setting rather than the text. I'd find it unobjectionable - kind of puerile, and trying too hard to be shocking for clickbait's sake, but essentially harmless - were it not for the fact that there are lots of lines about selling sex for money accompanied by the constant refrain of "there's some whores in this house".

I have no objection to sex workers or sex positivity in general, but the line isn't "there's some sex workers in this house". "Whore" is a term that's been so consistently used as a slur and a term of sexist abuse as to put it on the wrong side of the line of acceptable speech for me.

So when I hear little ms. flabdablet (15) use words like "bitch" or "whore", even if she is merely parroting Cardi B, I do object.

And if you put that down to me being 57 years old and white and male, perhaps you're right. But having given this issue careful consideration I have yet to see any good reason to shift my position on it.
posted by flabdablet at 11:38 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Your objections are quite different (and more reasonable) than those by the Ben Shapiros and Tom Cottons of the world.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:57 AM on September 14


Back to the film: having now watched it, I can't see anything in it that's more objectionable than Mean Girls or Heathers or Little Miss Sunshine. Anybody who huffs and puffs about some sort of kiddy-fiddling subtext in this film and yet manages to react with equanimity to this hideousness is just deranged.
posted by flabdablet at 12:18 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


^ the video you posted

I just did not need that today, or ever. Not to scold you for posting, it's not even a shock that it's happening. But to click and see a few seconds of that, it's really horrifying. I used to like saying "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion" but some things in the world are so awful that even something ironic like that, several degrees removed from the epicentre of the True Awfulness, is tainted even by that slight connection

it's Monday and I think it's just me.
posted by elkevelvet at 12:37 PM on September 14


I just saw the movie, and what struck me was the sadness of Ami's situation. The conservative religious upbringing doesn't offer much to her. The mildly criminal group of girls has its own serious problems which aren't just about sexualization. The happy moment ending doesn't say much about what's possible for her future, though the religious constraints were less intense than I was expecting them to be.

There are probably aspects of the movie which I didn't get because I don't know the culture.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:58 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I watched it last night, and I feel that you really have to be trying to look to see it as actually glorifying tween sexualization; a few particular issues:
  • The film never lets you forget these are kids and they don't know anything about anything. They find sex befuddling and weird; most of the things they say about it mechanically are hilariously wrong. They make dumb their-brains-are-not-fully-formed choices about a lot of things. They've figured out that their sexuality can give them power but make use of it in ways that they really don't seem to get, and which often backfire on them. It makes it abundantly clear they aren't really capable of giving informed consent to anything, which is very much not a talking point for the sort of people who would be all enthusiastic about sexualizing young girls. I found their reliance on biting their fingers particularly interesting, because (AFAIK) that's a sexualizing move that's specifically meant to evoke innocent childishness and these kids were using it in an attempt to seem more mature.
  • Outside figures don't really validate their sexualization. Some people talked above about that dance-competition scene; one thing I noted during that scene was the audience/judge reaction shots. There are definitely a few of yobbos having far too good a time... but those are outweighed by those, both of the judges and of the crowd, of people who are very clearly uncomfortable with what they're seeing.
  • The "oppositional" forces are presented sympathetically. Honestly, I kept expecting Amy's mother to react a lot worse to the household-damaging consequences of her misbehavior: the flood, the thefts. Particularly given her unenviable domestic plight, it's hard to view her as any sort of a villain. She's responding to Amy's exploration and rebellion in a way which isn't very helpful, with outright condemnation and no real dialogue, but that feels more tragic than evil: she doesn't have the social script to understand what Amy's going through and respond to it with nuance.
  • The kids are kinda assholes. The original Mignonnes are very much in a mean-girls vein, and Amy becoming part of them doesn't make them nicer except through her eyes. They continue to behave astonishingly badly, and tear each other down. And, of course, in order to join the competition, Amy has to behave very, very badly to someone who didn't do a whole hell of a lot to deserve it.
So I don't see a lot of "yay, tween rebellion" or "yay, tween sexuality" in the cinematic framing or the plot. The sympathies of the film are mostly with those who find their antics kinda disturbing and only with out-of-context short clips can you really make it look like it's trying to do anything different. Amy's conservative society is not presented as a cureall or even very effective in responding to her problems, but neither is it presented as maliciously invested in keeping her down.
posted by jackbishop at 9:03 AM on September 15 [10 favorites]


jackbishop, thanks. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who saw the movie as mostly sad rather than horrifying. Though there is this review, which is in the same vein.

Something I haven't seen discussed is that the girls are *self*-sexualized. They aren't being pushed by stage parents or abusers. Their alternatives are drab, while "sexy" dancing has movement and excitement.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:27 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


I've watched the film now. It's great, and I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. A story that I haven't watched or heard over and over. Obvious how many people haven't watch it here before commenting, or rather, visualising it in US terms and getting annoyed at that rather than experiencing something different
posted by peepofgold at 12:59 PM on September 15 [7 favorites]


There's some similar nonsense about a bill in California, which someone in real life was just telling me it legalizes pedophilia. Point of fact: it doesn't legalize anything at all. Only affects how and when LGBT offenders are put on the sex offender registry. The outrage goes so far beyond the facts that it feels like it has to be bad-faith. Like, there's so much more smoke than heat that it has to be a smoke machine.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 1:18 PM on September 16 [4 favorites]


The director Maïmouna Doucouré wrote in the Washington Post about her film - a couple excerpts:
The stories that the girls I spoke to shared with me were remarkably similar. They saw that the sexier a woman is on Instagram or TikTok, the more likes she gets. They tried to imitate that sexuality in the belief that it would make them more popular. Spend an hour on social media and you'll see preteens — often in makeup — pouting their lips and strutting their stuff as if they were grown women. The problem, of course, is that they are not women, and they don't realize what they are doing. They construct their self-esteem based on social media likes and the number of followers they have.

To see these youngsters put so much pressure on themselves so early was heartbreaking. Their insights and experiences with social media informed "Cuties."
...
I wanted adults to spend 96 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, as she lives 24 hours a day. These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result. Like most 11- and 12-year-olds, our actors in the film had already seen these types of dances and more. Despite this, during filming we were extremely mindful of their age. A trained counselor was present on set. There was no nudity except for a one-second shot in which the main characters see the exposed breast of an actress over 18 while watching a video of a dance routine on a grainy mobile screen. The project was even approved by the French government's child protection authorities.
Also, French cinema group Unifrance Condemns “Violent Reaction” to Netflix Film 'Cuties'
Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a presidential election campaign in full swing. In this context, UniFrance and all of its members wish to pledge their full support to Maïmouna Doucouré and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression. This is because one of the great strengths of cinema is its capacity to reach beyond borders and boundaries and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies.

UniFrance’s purpose is to promote French artists and their films to international audiences. When Maïmouna Doucouré invites and encourages us to reflect on social issues, it is therefore of essential importance to UniFrance that her work is able to travel the globe and to speak freely without the risk of receiving threats in all of the countries and regions in which her film is shown. It is crucial that this space of artistic creation and distribution is preserved, not only for this young filmmaker but also for all artists around the world.

This is a battle to defend freedom and diversity. Furthermore, we consider that the call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalog, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas.
posted by bitteschoen at 1:59 AM on September 20 [3 favorites]


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