21 August 2020 00:35

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Netflix has apologized for what it has deemed "inappropriate artwork" used to promote the forthcoming movie Cuties, the French-language film that won the World Cinematic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. "We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties," read a statement posted on the Netflix Twitter account on Thursday. Directed by French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. At the time, Doucouré explained how the project was inspired after she witnessed a group of young girls performing what she described as "sensual" dances for an audience of their parents. It was very fascinating but at the same time very disturbing because they were only 11 years old, but they were dancing with a very sensual dance, wearing clothes that were very short," Doucouré, who is of Senegalese descent, said at Sundance.

The scene inspired her to write and direct Cuties, which—according to its Sundance description—focuses on a young Senegalese girl named Amy, age 11, who is torn between her family's rigid standards and the "free-spirited dance clique" led by the girl next door. But when the marketing materials for Cuties arrived courtesy of Netflix before the film's debut on the streaming service next month, none of that context was present. Instead, viewers of the Cuties trailer were given this description: "Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. In the wake of the controversy, the film's trailer page on YouTube was flooded with comments calling out Netflix for sexualizing the youngsters and downvotes from users upset with the mere idea of the movie's existence. Later, Netflix changed the description on YouTube to read, "Amy, 11 years old, tries to escape family dysfunction by joining a free-spirited dance clique named 'Cuties,' as they build their self-confidence through dance." A viral tweet claiming the film sexualizes a young Black girl has led to thousands of people calling for Netflix to dump the film.

The French-language film from writer and director Maïmouna Doucouré tells the story of Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant. Except now, uh, actually, here's a tweet from my colleague, Vulture film critic Alison Willmore, that does a pretty good job of summing up what the hell happened to Cuties this week: Netflix bought Maïmouna Doucouré's MIGNONNES, gave it a misleading poster and summary, and now people are review-bombing it sight unseen on IMDb and Google and petitioning for it to be removed? It used a picture of a young Senegalese Muslim character, Amy, along with the titular Cuties — the dance crew of cool girls from her middle school in Paris — in spandex dance costumes (short shorts and metallic crop tops). The now-deleted description says Amy "becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew" and that, in an attempt to join them, she "starts to explore her femininity, defying her family's traditions." "Netflix WTF IS THIS," reads a viral tweet from a thread calling out the platform for sexualizing minors. The Twitter user also posted a petition to have Cuties "removed" from Netflix.

"This movie/show is disgusting as it sexualizes an ELEVEN year old for the viewing pleasure of pedophiles and also negatively influences our children," reads the description. There is no excuse, this is dangerous content!" A different petition titled "I Want Netflix to remove the new movie Cuties as it promotes child pornography" has garnered 65,000 signatures. If they had, they would have seen a very different film than the one the petitions describe: a story about family, womanhood, growing up, and the clash between Amy's Senegalese heritage and the freedom craved by anybody who was ever an 11-year-old girl. okay, so what the fuck you're not going to do is petition to get a coming of age film about a little black girl by a black woman director, maimouna doucoure, removed from netflix. this description does not accurately portray what the film is about but here's the trailer pic.twitter.com/unpF807xyu — Daniellé beebab DASH (@DanielleDASH) August 20, 2020 watch more here: pic.twitter.com/xZeSAMn8d4 — Daniellé beebab DASH (@DanielleDASH) August 20, 2020 (It's cropped from the still at the top of this post.) The description no longer mentions twerking and instead describes the movie as a story of an 11-year-old girl rebelling against her family after she meets a "free-spirited dance crew." The artwork is a depiction of the entire film, which encourages pre-pubescent girls to explore their "sexuality" and act in sexual ways. But being a film reporter, I can tell you that I have seen Cuties, a French film coming to Netflix on September 9, which has been accused of "child porn" for its depiction of preteen girls in skimpy outfits in a recently released poster and trailer. As one of the few people who has actually seen the film, I can tell you that Cuties in no way, shape, or form advocates for the hyper-sexualization of young girls. Around that same time, a fact-free "documentary" called Out of the Shadows went viral on YouTube, which claimed Satan-worshipping Hollywood executives are spreading messages of pedophilia through movies like Zoolander and coded messages like the word "television." As Mel Magazine recently reported, the "Save the Children" rallying cry has been co-opted by people who seem more interested in outlandish stories about shadowy cabals than preventing real-life sex trafficking. But if you'd seen the film, you'd know that French-Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré illustrates, very clearly, that the four girls who enter a dance contest together are far too young to be wearing skimpy outfits and performing suggestive dance moves. Neither the poster, nor the trailer, nor Netflix's official description of the film does a great job conveying the tone of the movie. Let's try again: The protagonist of Cuties is Amy, an 11-year-old daughter of Senegalese immigrants who lives in poverty with her mother and two brothers in Paris. As a result, she is bullied by a group of popular girls who wear crop-tops and call themselves "The Cuties." Amy, like any 11-year-old girl, desperately wants to fit in. But until more people get a chance to watch the movie for themselves, I'll hope you'll take my word for it when I say Cuties is not advocating for the kind of behavior that its young leads engage in. Watch Cuties on Netflix