Cuties

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Cuties
File:Cuties poster.jpg
French theatrical release poster
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré
Produced by Zangro
Written by Maïmouna Doucouré
Starring
  • Fathia Youssouf
  • Médina El Aidi-Azouni
  • Esther Gohourou
  • Ilanah Cami-Goursolas
  • Maïmouna Gueye
Music by Niko Noki
Cinematography Yann Maritaud
Edited by
  • Mathilde Van de Moortel
  • Stéphane Mazalaigue
Distributed by BAC Films
Release dates
  • 23 January 2020 (2020-01-23) (Sundance)
  • 19 August 2020 (2020-08-19) (France)
Running time
95 minutes
Country France
Language French
Box office $464,572[1]

Cuties (French: Mignonnes) is a 2020 French coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by French-Senegalese Maïmouna Doucouré in her feature directorial debut.[2] The film stars Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas and Maïmouna Gueye. The plot revolves around a French-Senegalese girl with a traditional Muslim upbringing who is caught between traditional values and Internet culture. The film is intended to criticise the hypersexualisation of pre-adolescent girls, according to the filmmakers.[3][4]

The film premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on 23 January, where Doucouré won the Directing Award. It was released in France on 19 August 2020 by BAC Films and internationally on 9 September 2020 on Netflix.

While receiving generally positive reviews from critics, it received poor online audience ratings and has received considerable criticism from the general public. Netflix's marketing campaign, and later the film itself, were a subject of controversy due to the sexually suggestive behavior of the pre-adolescent characters, with some groups, such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, claiming that it sexualised young girls.

Plot

Eleven-year-old immigrant girl Amy (pronounced: [Ami]), originally from Senegal, lives with her mother Mariam in one of Paris's poorest neighbourhoods. In an apartment along with her two younger brothers, she waits for her father to rejoin the family from Senegal. She helplessly witnesses the suffering of her mother, whose polygamous husband is preparing to return from the country with a second wife. She is also bored during prayer and more generally of the religious values ​​that her aunt seeks to transmit to her.

Things turn swiftly, as Amy is fascinated by her disobedient neighbour Angelica's twerking clique called Cuties, an adult-style dance troupe which has contrasting fortunes and characteristics to Mariam's religious customs, values and traditions. The pre-teens practice for a competition and do not hesitate to adopt revealing outfits in the image of their older competitors. Encouraged by success and the quest for recognition on social networks, Amy decides to incorporate into the choreography gestures of sexually suggestive dance moves that she has seen on videos.

Following a humiliation at school, she sends a compromising photo of her genitals on social networks, which causes her to be rejected by her classmates. Following a quarrel with the rest of the Cuties, they ban her from performing with them at the dance contest. While her father's wedding is on the same day as the final competition at Parc de la Villette, she is determined to dance with them. Sneaking out of the house in her dance outfit, she pushes another member of the Cuties, Yasmine, into a lake, so that the Cuties have no choice but to allow her to dance with them. The highly suggestive dance routine shocks the audience. Suddenly thinking about her mother during the routine, Amy bursts into tears and leaves before their performance ends to join her mother. Upon her return, she runs into her aunt who blames her for her outfit and recent attitude. Amy's mother intervenes by telling her to leave her daughter alone and then hugs her to reassure her. Amy implores her mother to allow Amy to not attend the wedding, in order to demonstrate her disapproval. Amy's mother permits her to not go, but states that she herself must go to fulfill her duty as a wife. Amy then abandons both the traditional wedding dress and her sexy dancer's outfit, and, in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair down, she goes out to play jump rope with a group of girls.[5][6]

Cast

  • Fathia Youssouf as Amy
  • Médina El Aidi-Azouni as Angelica
  • Maïmouna Gueye (fr) as Mariam, the mother
  • Esther Gohourou as Coumba
  • Ilanah Cami-Goursolas as Jess
  • Myriam Hamma as Yasmine
  • Mbissine Therese Diop as the aunt
  • Demba Diaw as Ismael
  • Mamadou Samaké as Samba

Production

The film was announced by filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouné, as her debut directorial venture.[7] She rose to prominence with her award-winning 2016 short film Maman(s), which was selected and premiered in over two hundred film festivals, and won around sixty awards in several international film festivals.[8] Maïmouna penned the script for the film, taking her life experience as a refugee girl into account. The script eventually won Sundance's Global Filmmaking Award in 2017.[9] Doucouné says she based the film after seeing a talent show in Paris.[10] She says that the contrast of the dancing and the traditional garb of the families in the audience was fascinating.[11]

Casting for the film took nearly six months. Approximately 650 girls auditioned for the main character; ultimately, 11-year-old Fathia Youssouf was chosen.[12]

During an interview, director Maïmouna Doucouné is said to have "created a climate of trust between the children and myself" during filming. She stated while working on the film, "I explained to them everything I was doing and the research that I had done before I wrote this story. I was also lucky that these girls' parents were also activists, so we were all on the same side. At their age, they've seen this kind of dance. Any child with a telephone can find these images on social media these days." She also stated that she worked with a child psychologist during filming.[13]

Theatrical release

Cuties had its world premiere in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on 23 January,[14][15] where Doucouré won the Directing Award,[16] and was one of three French films to be screened at festival.[17][18] Originally set for a theatrical release in France on 1 April 2020, the film was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in France,[19] and was eventually released on 19 August 2020 by BAC Films.[20][21]

Netflix release

In January 2020, prior to the film's Sundance premiere, Netflix purchased the worldwide rights to the film, excluding France.[22] It was released internationally on Netflix on 9 September 2020.[23][24][25]

Marketing

File:Cuties Netflix poster.jpg
The original Cuties film poster used by Netflix. It was later replaced following criticism.

Prior to its release on Netflix, the film had not been deemed controversial when it was screened at Sundance and released in France.[11] After Netflix acquired Cuties, its international promotional poster and trailer for the film were criticized for allegedly sexualising 11-year-old girls,[25][26][27] and were different from those used to promote the film in its original release in France. The Parents Television Council (PTC) requested that Netflix remove the film entirely, and a Change.org petition calling for people to cancel their Netflix subscription gathered more than 600,000 signatures.[26][28] Followers of QAnon on social media also criticised the film,[11] with the imageboard 4chan banning images pertaining to the film.[29][30]

In response, Netflix replaced the poster with a new one, stating, "This was not an accurate representation of the film so the image and description has been updated."[31][32][33] American actress Tessa Thompson came out in support of the film when it was criticized on social media, stating that "Cuties is a beautiful film" and said that she felt "gutted" when she saw the film for the first time during the Sundance premiere.[34] In Turkey, the Ministry of Family asked Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) to take the necessary precautions and evaluate the film;[35] RTÜK subsequently demanded the film be removed from the Netflix catalogue.[36][37] In September 2020, Pakistani actor Hamza Ali Abbasi signed one of the petitions and demanded Netflix cancel their planned release of the film.[38] Adriana Martínez Bedini, vice-president of Buenos Aires' Consejo de los Derechos de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes (Council for the Rights of Girls, Boys and Teenagers) called for "being very cautious in not erotizing infancy. Its consequences in society could be dangerous", adding that the topic would be included in the council plenary.[39]

In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Maïmouna Doucouré stated that she received numerous death threats and personal attacks following the backlash on social media. She claimed that things happened fairly quickly (after delays due to COVID-19); she was focusing solely on the film's theatrical release in France, and at the time was not consulted about the controversial poster unveiled by Netflix. She said that she was notified of the film's poster controversy after being informed of negative feedback and reviews from the public on social media, and that the co-CEO of Netflix phoned her directly and apologised for the poster release.[40]

International release

On 10 September, Hash-tagCancelNetflix started trending on Twitter in the United States (one day after the release of the film internationally) with The Guardian saying that opposition came from across the political spectrum.[41] Michelle Jaworski of the Daily Dot said that part of the outrage was based on clips of the film that were taken out of context.[42] Subscribers of Netflix repeatedly threatened to cancel their subscriptions following the release of the film on the platform. It became the second Netflix film in 2020 to have received severe backlash and condemnation among the public regarding accusations of inappropriate culture portrayal, following 365 Days.[43]

Following its release on Netflix, Cuties has become one of the all-time lowest-rated films on IMDb, with a rating of 1.7,[44] which has been impacted by review bombing in relation to the controversy over the film.[45] As of 11 September 2020, the film's trailer, which was unveiled by Netflix on 18 August 2020, is currently ranked as the 48th most disliked YouTube video in the world.[46]

In response, Netflix defended Cuties, saying that the film is a piece of "social commentary against the sexualization of young children" and encouraged subscribers to watch it.[47][48][49] In a further interview, Doucouré claimed that people upset with her film have not streamed it, stating: "I realize that the people who have started this controversy haven't yet seen the film. Netflix has apologized to the public and to myself. I'm hoping that these people will watch the movie now that it's out. I'm eager to see their reaction when they realize that we're both on the same side of this fight against young children's hypersexualization."[50]

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Texas State Representative Matt Schaefer has called on the Texas state attorney general to investigate the film for possible violations of child exploitation and child pornography laws.[51][52] U.S. Senator Josh Hawley also informally invited Netflix to discuss the film "before Congress" in a tweet.[53] Utah Senate Mike Lee sent a letter directly to the Netflix CEO and demanded for further clarification regarding the film genre.[54] On September 12, a bipartisan group of United States Congresspeople called for a Department of Justice investigation of Netflix over releasing the film. One of its members, former Democrat presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard explicitly called the film "child porn" and that it would "whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade."[55] Republican Senator Ted Cruz personally sent a letter to the Department of Justice to "investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography."[56]

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation condemned Netflix for giving a film "that has permitted the sexual exploitation of children" a platform and called for the company to cut the "sexually-exploitative scenes or stop hosting this film at all".[57][58][59][60]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 7.22/10. The website's critics have described it as: "A thoughtful look at the intricacies of girlhood in the modern age, Cuties is a coming-of-age film that confronts its themes with poignancy and nuance."[61] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[62]

Monica Castillo of RogerEbert.com gave the film four out four stars, stating "Cuties is a difficult and challenging film, pushing the idea of 'depiction does not equal endorsement' to its limit."[63] In a review for IndieWire, Kate Erbland wrote, "Although Doucouré steeps Cuties in emotion and experience, she abandons its grace to make crazier gestures."[64] Variety' Amy Nicholson wrote, "Newcomer Youssouf has an anchoring presence. Occasionally, Doucouré lets her light up the screen with a smile, and at the director's most expressionistic, the girl floats", though it noted that the film is aiming to get more "gasps than laughs" with its dance numbers.[65] Other reviewers noted that the film is intended to criticize "a culture that steers impressionable young girls toward the hypersexualization of their bodies" and "seems to want to provoke censure".[3][4] Clarisse Fabre of Le Monde praised the film and noted that it avoids judging the sexualized dances of the girls.[66]

Libération described the film as "endearing but too demonstrative", adding that "the film remains on the threshold of the discomfort that it intends to press each time it meets the male gaze, as if it was afraid to blame it head on".[67] According to France Info, "Mignonnes' words are a subtle reflection on the condition of women when childhood and innocence discreetly recede" and a "female cast carried by the intensity of the young Fathia Youssouf, a revelation".[68]

David Fear of Rolling Stone rated the film 3 out of 5 stars.[69] Common Sense Media gave the film 4 out of 5 stars and wrote that "Maïmouna Doucouré has created an evocative, compassionate portrait of young girls finding their identity and values".[70] Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post defended the film, stating that the film would be liked by those who have not seen a glimpse of it yet and further she also criticised the remarks made against the film.[71][72] Carlos Aguilar of TheWrap compared Cuties's to films such as Girlhood (2014), The Fits (2015) and Atlantics (2019).[73]

Awards

Award Category Subject Result
Generation Prize Best Film Maïmouna Doucouré Nominated
Sundance Film Festival (2020) Directing Award—Dramatic Maïmouna Doucouré Won
Sundance Film Festival (2020) Grand Jury Prize—Dramatic Maïmouna Doucouré Nominated
Crystal Bear Generation Kplus—Best Film Maïmouna Doucouré Nominated

See also

References

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