“Cuties” director Maïmouna Doucouré has broken her silence in an interview with Zora amid escalating backlash that claims her award-winning coming-of-age drama sexualizes its young actresses. Outrage over “Cuties” erupted August 20 after Netflix debuted a poster for the film that featured its child stars making suggestive dance poses in revealing outfits. The poster led to accusations the film sexualizes its stars, when in reality “Cuties” openly criticizes the ways in which society puts pressure on young girls to be overtly sexual.
While Netflix apologized for inappropriately marketing the film, the September 9 debut of “Cuties” on the streaming platform has caused backlash to explode on social media. Rallying calls for Netflix subscribers to delete their accounts because of “Cuties” resulted in the Twitter hashtags #DeleteNetflix and #CancelNetflix becoming top trends in the U.S. on September 10. The renewed backlash forced Netflix to issue a follow-up statement defending the film.
“‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “It’s an award-winning film and 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.”
Doucouré says it’s clear from the backlash that people upset with her film have not streamed it, telling Zora, “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.”
“Cuties” stars newcomer Fathia Youssouf as Amy, an 11-year-old girl who befriends a group of dancers at her school and begins growing into her burgeoning femininity. Amy’s coming of age experience with her new friends upsets her mother as it is in direct confrontation with the family’s Senegalese Muslim traditions.
The idea for “Cuties” was formed after Doucouré attended a neighborhood gathering in Paris and witnessed a group of young girls on a stage dancing in “a very sexually revealing way,” just as the characters in her film do.
“I decided to do research to see if they were aware and conscious of what they were doing,” Doucouré said. “I met over a hundred preteens who told me their stories. I asked them how they felt about their femininity in today’s society. I wanted to know how they dealt with their self-image at a time when social media is so important, and they have access to so much information and so many images.”
Doucouré said she “created a climate of trust between the children and myself” during filming, adding, “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.”
“However, these were composite shots, so the girls weren’t dancing like that all the time,” the director continued. “We also worked with a child psychologist throughout the filming. She’s still working with the children, because I want to make sure that they can navigate this newfound stardom.”
Netflix never consulted Doucouré about the marketing for the movie, so she had no control over the first poster for the film that jumpstarted the controversy in the first place. The main takeaway from the backlash for Doucouré is to make sure moving forward she “takes the time to look at each step, even beyond the marketing…Next time, I will see the poster, and we’ll communicate better.”
“Cuties” is now streaming on Netflix.