Cuties is all over social media – only 2020 (natural) tragedies have kept people (Americans, of course) commenting so intensely. And if you haven’t heard of Cuties yet, let me give you a brief description. It is a French Netflix movie that tells the story of 11-year old Muslim Senegalese immigrant. Her name is Amy. The central idea is that she joins a girl dance crew, as a result of her desire for acceptance and inclusion. The movie description on Netflix is: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” However, the description did not meet my expectations. My cultural-differences-enthusiast self was disappointed.
Later on, however, I found out that the initial synopsis was different. It said: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”. This one describes the film better and doesn’t create false expectations, in my opinion. Proof is that, because of the current description, I actually thought that the movie would focus more on actual cultural differences and backgrounds. The beginning was promising. It depicted the main character, Amy, praying together with other adult Muslim women and discussing the woman and wife status. The rest of the movie, though, disconnected from the introduction – or at least exposed the cultural differences in a very unexpected manner.
What the director has to say about the movie
French-Senegalese Maïmouna Doucouré was the one who wrote and directed the movie. An immigrant herself, she used her growing-up experiences to point out sensitive topics. She claimed that she spent a year and a half doing research for this movie.
After the rising scandal that stained Netflix’s reputation for allowing such content, the movie director decided to clarify some things. Many of the online comments blamed the parents of the teen actors. Maïmouna Doucouré reassured the general public that the girls’ parents are activists as well, and very open-minded. Also, for those who accused her and Netflix of child pornography, and believed that the main characters had no capacity of consent, Doucouré stated that she explained to the girls everything she was doing. She also worked with a child psychologist. The director added that “at their age, they’ve seen this kind of dance.”
And I believe her, since many music videos show dancers twerking. Not to mention that children have access to internet from a very young age. It is really unavoidable to see these images. And that is what Maïmouna Doucouré wanted to express.
France’s reputation of sexual liberation
Personally, I am not amazed by this movie coming from a French director. France is famously known for expressed sexuality and freedom.
If you take a look in movie and literature history, you can understand why I am not amazed. Two of the earliest pioneers of porn movies were French: Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner. In literature, one of the first female authors that wrote erotic works was French: Anaïs Nin. Another famous erotic writer is also French – Marquis de Sade, whose works challenge traditional perceptions of sexuality, religion, law, age, and gender. And let’s not forget Simone de Bouvoir, with her famous “The Second Sex”.
A very relatable quote from Simone de Bouvoir, for our topic, is “one is not born but becomes a woman.” The 11-year old girls in the movie have no education when it comes to womanhood or sex issues. Where are their parents? Amy’s relationship with her mother is too conservative for the environment they live in. The parents of the other three girls are completely missing. At one point, Angi confesses to Amy that her parents are too busy, and they always compare her to her smart brother. Another scene that demonstrates the lack of sexual education is when Coumba finds a used condom on the ground. She starts playing with it, blowing it like a balloon. The film tackles the idea of young girls’ predisposition to be easily influenced when parents avoid talking about sexuality.
The age of social media
The director Maïmouna Doucouré says that “our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she’s successful. And the children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning, and yeah, it’s dangerous.” For this kind of girls, real women look like the ones on the Internet and TV. And when you want to be part of your community – like Amy – you might do surprising things. On the Internet, females who expose a lot of skin are very appreciated and talked about. And as a conservative girl that has no sexual education, you might think that this is the way to make friends at school.
A Netflix spokesperson says that it’s “a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.” And educate their children according to the world we live in, I would add.
Differences between United States and Europe regarding sex education
What strikes me is that the only ones who completely hate this movie are Americans. Some of them had the audacity to comment on it without even watching it. For a nation that is so economically and technologically evolved, you’d say that it is more open-minded when it comes to sexuality. However, because of their Puritan religious roots, Americans have more restrictions when it comes to sex. Remember the 3rd date/base rule? They also refrain from speaking with their children about sexuality until when it’s really too late. Remember the “F-word”?
In Europe, things are more relaxed. In France – and in Western countries especially – sex is disconnected from religion. If we think about Romania, most parents even swear at their own children. They just tell things as they are. Think about how many creative ways of swearing we have!
Belgian Therapist Esther Perel explains the sexual liberation of the French, compared to Americans. She says that “in France, we believe that friendship between men and women is possible. Americans have no idea what ambiguity and sexual tension are.” She uses the example co-ed summer camps in France. There, adolescents become familiar with the other sex. “Americans don’t marry young, they have sex, but they don’t fully live out those relationships. There’s no sex education at all, instead the government pays millions for abstinence campaigns.”
Cuties is a movie that I neither liked or disliked. It was not so cute, actually. I only found it surprising and interesting. It was a little uncomfortable to watch, even for me, I have to admit that. Thus, I can understand the people who found it disturbing, especially parents of young girls. But, in my opinion, the movie really expresses the world we live in. Sexual images are everywhere, especially on the Internet. And for girls who are uneducated on this topic – like the girls in the Cuties – it’s easy to copy what they see, not knowing if it is good or bad.
Lastly, a piece of advice for parents: you have no idea what your children can do when (they think) no one is watching. You think your babies are innocent angels, but, in fact, they are very receptive to their environment. This comes from someone who has worked in a kindergarten. So, make sure you transmit the right things to them and explain things as they are.
And admit it, you’ve done weird things and copied what you saw on TV when you were children, too. The fact that Netflix expresses blatantly this idea makes you feel exposed and outraged just because it’s true.