Right now the internet is incredibly angry at Netflix. People are canceling their memberships left and right over a French film recently released on the platform. The protest of this particular film has sparked some interesting and much needed conversations about sexual exploitation of children.
At the surface, it seems like many protesting the film are protesting the image more than the act.
A recent GQ Magazine article summarized the film well: "The winner of the Dramatic Directing Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Maïmouna Doucouré's Cuties is essentially a coming-of-age story, following an eleven-year-old Senegalese girl, Amy, as she adjusts to a new life in a deprived Parisian neighborhood. Her family are extremely conservative, but her new friends are less so, having formed a dance troupe called Cuties, for which they perform in scanty outfits while twerking and gyrating. Suddenly, her new life is at odds with her old one and what the film presents is a nuanced and analytical look the various factors young girls must grapple with when attempting to forge their identity growing up, particularly when their own backgrounds' cultures and customs conflict with everything else they see around them."
The film is a critique of those who sexualize children. It is shining a harsh light on the very thing we're all criticizing.
Anger over the movie may be misguided. However, maybe it is more appropriately aimed at Netflix who chose a controversial poster to market the show. The poster shows young girls in revealing dance costumes—which is on theme with the content of the show and in no way unique in the world of pop culture.
"The girls are very young and they are wearing very little clothing. But context, people! It's important! In actual fact, rather than glorifying the sexualization of children, Cuties critiques it, illustrating how young girls often feel pressured to grow up too fast, before they even properly understand their own sexuality and how it can be exploited. Ironically, the boycotting mob, the director and Netflix are all on the same team here."
Most of us are on the same page here. We're against the sexual exploitation young girls.
But why this poster? Why has this been the one instance we all unite around in outrage.
Should we not take a broader look at the dance industry, at children's pageants, at TikTok and at countless other avenues in which young girls are allowed, and even encouraged, to act this way.
The article says it this way: "If you're shocked by what you see in the film or any of its promotional material, then you should redirect your anger to the real-life institutions and traditions it's based on."
I've seen countless shows about spray-tanned, scantily clad kiddos in the pageant world go unprotected. I've seen viral videos of little girls tweaking that haven't sparked outrage.
So why this one?
The promotional poster was problematic in that it represents an problematic society. It does what promotional posters do—it gives a glimpse into the content of the movie. (Is a poster with an image of a hungry child for a movie about starting children promoting child neglect? Or is it serving as a headline for the content to come?)
Sexualizing young girls is wrong. It is a deep-rooted problem in our society that is worsening.
On this we can all agree.
And sure, we can continue to be angry at a marketing poster or we can use that energy to be angry at the systems and industries that allow this behavior to happen.
Argument can be made that the film took the wrong approach. It's a vicious cycle—the film uses the sexualization of children as a way of criticizing the sexualization of children. Is it raising awareness or contributing to the problem? Conversations can be had about the sexualization of child actors. This film had a goal—raise awareness and criticize the sexualization of young girls especially in the dance industry. So while the method may have been flawed it is at least attempting something we all agree with. Viral videos and children's dance and pageant shows have a goal, too—exploitation.
So yes, let's all be outraged, but let's make sure we've audited our own viewing habits before we jump on a trendy bandwagon.
Cydney Baron is the editor of the Claremore Progress.