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Tessa Thompson and More Defend ‘Cuties,’ Criticize Netflix’s Marketing for Creating Outrage

Maïmouna Doucouré's coming-of-age movie criticizes the very outrage that's now being lobbied against it.

"Cuties"

“Cuties”

Netflix

As the backlash against Maïmouna Doucouré’s “Cuties” continues to grow (an online petition calling for Netflix not to release the film is nearing 300,000 signatures), actress Tessa Thompson and various film critics who have seen the coming-of-age drama are coming to its defense. Accusations that “Cuties” sexualizes pre-teen girls and encourages pedophilia erupted after Netflix debuted a poster for the film August 18 that featured young girls in skimpy dance outfits making suggestive, twerking-like poses.

Netflix issued an apology for its marketing of the film in an August 20 statement, saying, “We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for ‘Mignonnes’/’Cuties.’ It was not ok, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”

But the Netflix apology hasn’t stopped the escalating outrage against the film. Parents Television Council president Tim Winter condemned the movie in a statement by saying “the only motivation” for producing such a film is “to sexualize children and to fuel the appetites of those who would feed on the sexualization of children.”

“How can [Netflix] possibly reconcile a ‘coming of age’ film, and one that centers entirely on 11-year-old girls, with a TV-MA rating?” Winter asked. “Netflix must stop sexually exploiting children for the sake of entertainment, period. ‘Cuties’ is not the first time Netflix has blatantly promoted programming that sexualizes children, but this must be the last.”

While the outrage is understandable in context with Netflix’s inappropriate marketing, Tessa Thompson and others have taken to social media to note the marketing misrepresents the film. “Cuties” stars newcomer Fathia Youssouf as an 11-year-old girl who befriends a group of dancers at her school and begins growing into her burgeoning femininity. Doucouré’s narrative is about the very outrage that Netflix’s marketing has created as the film criticizes the ways in which society puts pressure on young girls to be overtly sexual.

“‘Cuties’ is a beautiful film,” Thompson wrote on Twitter. “It gutted me at [Sundance]. It introduces a fresh voice at the helm. She’s a French Senegalese Black woman mining her experiences. The film comments on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescent girls. Disappointed to see the current discourse”

Thompson added, “Disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing. I understand the response of everybody. But it doesn’t speak to the film I saw.”

In an essay for In Their Own League, writer Caz Armstrong said Netflix “betrayed” Doucouré by originally marketing the film with a sexualized image of its pre-teen characters. “When Netflix’s marketing puts out a sexually provocative poster, they are deliberately leveraging the most controversial aspect of the film in an inappropriate way,” Armstrong writes. “They’re doing exactly what the film itself puts under the microscope, sexually exploiting girls without the mature discussion required. It’s clickbait.”

“Please do not boycott an important film,” Armstrong added, “especially one by a Black female filmmaker, based on inaccurate and inflammatory marketing over which she had no control.”

Many of the positive reviews for “Cuties” out of Sundance praise the film for how sensitively it handles its themes of sexualization.

“Cuties” is set for release on Netflix September 9.

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