Cuties, or Mignonnes in its original French, has been all over my news feed since it was released on Netflix on September 9. I’m sure I don’t have to describe to you the rage I saw on social media, usually attached to a YouTube clip from the movie.
I will admit that I didn’t watch any of these clips, as I have made a commitment to myself not to get my news from YouTube, but the content of the posts accompanying these videos made me think I wouldn’t want to see them anyway.
Last week, however, I stumbled across an interview with Maïmouna Doucouré, the director of Cuties.
“I was trying to recreate the little girl who I was at that age, giving her a voice, and looking at what it means to become a woman,” she said. She spent a year and a half interviewing pre-teen girls to learn about their experiences in preparation to make Cuties.
“I was trying to recreate the little girl who I was at that age, giving her a voice, and looking at what it means to become a woman.”Maïmouna Doucouré
“There were actually many stories which were so far beyond what you see in the film, and I just did not have the artistic courage to tell those stories on the screen… All of these stories just made my blood run cold, and it made me even more determined to make this film, and to speak out about this issue that is so prevalent in today’s society.”
I was struck by Doucouré’s words, and I wondered if this might be an issue deserving of more consideration than a rage click on a 30-second YouTube video. So, I watched the movie for myself.
I am the mother of three children, two of whom are girls. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, and I attended a Christian school where we would be sent home if our shorts didn’t touch our kneecaps or if our tank top straps were less than 3 inches wide.
We didn’t have school dances until my senior year of high school, and we were taught that virginity was the greatest gift we could give our future husbands. I’m not saying all of that was bad, but that’s where I came from, and I related with Amy (the main character), her curiosity about relationships and bodies, and her lack of information outside of the internet.
Thankfully, I didn’t get wrapped up in a wild crowd like the protagonist of Cuties does. She desperately wants to break away from her conservative, religious home, so she pursues and eventually joins with a quartet of girls from school who wear skin-tight clothes, regularly bare their midriffs, and are gearing up for a dance competition.
I’ve heard from several people, even in my small Midwestern city, who told me that the dance moves in Cuties are no worse than what they’ve seen in real-world girls’ hip hop dance routines. I have no experience in that world, so I can’t verify that, but I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t want my daughters dancing the routines in this movie. My parenting style is much more relaxed than the one I was raised with, but it alarmed even my feminist, liberal-leaning brain.
It’s supposed to. That’s the whole point.
The biggest concern I’m hearing from the “Cancel Netflix over this movie” crowd is that there were young girls actually performing these dances for the movie. There were cameras panning their butts and zooming in on their crotches. What about those girls? Wasn’t it irresponsible to use girls that young to tell this story?
That’s a legitimate concern, and I went into the viewing with the following question in mind: Do the ends justify the means?
Even if this movie wakes a bunch of parents up to the dangers of allowing kids to learn about sexuality on the internet, would it be worth any damage that might have been done to the 10 girls who danced in Cuties?
The main group of stars in the movie are almost all 14 years old. One is younger, at age 12. I don’t know whether these girls were involved in dance and already performing similar moves in their off-screen lives. It doesn’t seem like a stretch that they’d cast girls who had some experience in this area, but I can’t say it for sure.
But even if they weren’t taught to twerk and writhe on the floor specifically for this movie, is it healthy for them to be getting acclaim for playing these parts?
It left me with a lot of questions. I think the director was right in her desire to tell this story, as it reflects the experiences of so many girls as they learn what it means to be a woman. But could she have told the story with actors who were older than 14? Would it have shocked us enough to cause us to question ourselves, had the main characters been in their late teens? I am not sure.
I do think it’s worth noting the cultural differences between the United States and France (where this film originated). The age of sexual consent there is 15. So, 14 year old girls dancing like they did (and there was never any actual sexual activity performed in the movie) probably wasn’t viewed in the same way by the director or actors or parents as it is here.
That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it’s something to consider before we judge the director too harshly.
As to the concern that this is just eye candy for pedophiles, that may be true. I doubt that they’re lacking for viewing content these days, though, so I’m personally not convinced that it’s enough reason to throw something out that otherwise might keep other little girls from walking the same path as Amy. I’m not sure.
I am sure that this is a complex topic. At the very least, it’s forcing us to talk about some difficult but important things. It forces us to ask, Which ways can a girl move her body without it being sexual? And who decides something is sexual—the girl or the one who’s looking at her?
And what more can we as parents do to help girls navigate the pre-teen years in a healthy, safe way?
So. Many. Questions.
Take the time to grapple with the things I’ve brought up here. Don’t stop at the cheap rage click. Let this moment make us better.