Cuties: Netflix’s unethical exploitations

Photo by Eva Ou

The movie Cuties was recently released onto Netflix amidst massive controversy. For those unaware, the original promotional poster marketing the film showed 11-year-old children wearing revealing attire while making mature poses. 

Many—myself included—found the poster to be grotesque and pedophilic, prompting Netflix to release an apology and an updated, appropriate poster. With the movie being released, I decided to watch it and answer a few questions. 

First, I wanted to decide if the film was pedophilic in nature and what its overall purpose was. Second, I wanted to discover what the film shows and determine if anything they do crosses a line. 

The final question I wanted answered was if this film was really necessary. This was likely one of the hardest films for me to watch and analyze in a long time so if you’re thinking of watching this film, consider reading this article first.

First, the important question: was this film made to appeal to pedophiles? I’m confident in saying no. As I watched the film, it became evident how the over-sexualization of the children was intentionally disturbing. However, I still believe the movie could’ve done more to amplify how disturbing many of the scenes were.

The film succeeds in making the audience feel uncomfortable about how children—pre-teens specifically—are transformed as a result of the internet and our current culture.

I watched an interview with the director after the film and her intentions seemed reasonable. Maïmouna Doucouré used her own experiences as inspiration for the film. 

She explains that she saw pre-teens dancing maturely in the park and was appalled by the display. She made the film with the intention of shedding some light on the problem, deciding that this would be best expressed by disturbing the audience the way she was. 

After watching the film, I understand her message and what she’s attempting to say. The film’s ending is solely about the recapturing of innocence and rejecting the over-sexualized nature of our modern-day society.

However, just because the purpose is pure doesn’t mean that other parts of the film are forgivable.

I was listening to several reviews of this movie and while my common ground with someone like Ben Shapiro fluctuates, I do believe he brought up a good point when discussing Cuties

He explained that there’s a line between condemnation and exploitation. The movie in a lot of instances clearly condemns the uncomfortably sexualized activities performed by the underage children. 

However, this condemnation comes at the cost of the actual exploitation of these 11-year-olds.

It drives the point home that what they’re doing is bad. But remember, there are still actual children being used to make the audience uncomfortable.

There are some scenes that are way too grotesque and could be represented in a better way—if not omitted from the film entirely. Sometimes there are scenes where the audience witnesses something incredibly offensive and the film makes no allusion to how horrible the actions being performed really are. 

There are scenes where the main child, Amy, attempts to solicit sex to get out of trouble, later revealing her undergarments. 

There is even a scene where she takes explicit photographs before posting them to social media. These scenes specifically contribute little to the message or plot of the film. 

At the very least, could these scenes not have been replaced with less exploitative content? Fathia Youssouf plays Amy in Cuties and she is the same age as her character: 11. 

You cannot give consent when you are 11 to act out scenes like these or to dress up salaciously while erotically dancing on camera. 

That is not okay and goes too far. There were moments where I could see that Fathia is a genuinely good child actor—which is rare. It would truly be a shame if she was ignored for parts later in her career because of what she was shown doing in Cuties.

Is Cuties something I’d recommend? No. While the film itself is competent, it crosses the line as it exploits pre-teens to ironically promote an anti-exploitation, conservative message. 

I don’t think the film is necessary, but a film that covers this important and scary subject might be. I think with people talented and thoughtful enough, you can make a film that covers similar topics without visibly exploiting children.

Again, I don’t think Doucouré made this movie to exploit children. I think she saw it as a necessity in order to bring attention to the issue. 

However, she has to realize that you can’t dress children up in revealing outfits and make them mimic sex acts. That is never acceptable, regardless of how important the issue is.

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