'Cuties' Isn't the Problem - Society Is
This article is recommended for people over the age of 16. If you are under the age of 16, please discuss this article with your legal guardian(s) before continuing.
I've seen article after article after social media post about canceling Netflix due to the release of French film 'Cuties' ('Mignnonnes') on their platform.
Based on the Netflix synopsis, 'Cuties' is a coming-of-age film, which follows the story of an 11-year old girl as she deals with the differences between her Senegalese family's conservative Muslim traditions while living in liberal France. This is explored through her joining a dance crew with girls of a similar age and causes conflict in her family.
The controversy is around whether or not this coming of age film promotes or condemns the over-sexualisation of young girls.
This is happening right around the time that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's song 'WAP' is currently trending everywhere.
I gravely fear how I will raise daughters if and when I am blessed to be the mother to girls. In today's society, it is a fine balancing act between protecting children and teenagers from what they see on social media and in the world around them and what they are socially pressured into doing, watching and hearing in order not to be ostracised by their peers.
This controversy is also happening in the year that a lot more information has come to light about the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and the people with whom he kept company - and the fact he was just one player in a larger ring of people exploiting minors - particularly female minors.
Being able to discuss this issue requires a very precise tact in order to alert people to exactly what we are allowing to happen in society and also not to promote disgusting behaviour such as paedophilia.
The art of film is often used as a way to have these conversations. What interests me about these outcries is that the same people who have contributed to the path society has gone down are the same people who are condemning Netflix for 'promoting' this behaviour, especially via the use of the hashtag, #CancelNetflix.
I have seen people post about canceling Netflix on Facebook, who have previously posted extremely explicit content on their own timeline to have a laugh or to promote sexual acts. I have seen influencers on Instagram who have posted pictures in lingerie and promoted their 'Only Fans' accounts decree two posts later that we need to protect young people.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine who runs a dance academy with his partner posted on his Facebook page about a disturbing incident which happened in his class. The dance school in question was set-up specifically to ensure young people had a place where they could learn to dance purely for the love of dancing - not to be pressured into competitive dancing - and also not to be exposed to some of the music which is played in dance schools, which is wildly inappropriate for young people's ears.
My friend explained that 7 and 8-year-old students asked him if their next dance could be to 'WAP' as they had seen the music video on YouTube in a targeted advertisement.
I have listened to a lot of sexually explicit rap music in my time. I have also listened to a lot of rap music which promotes unwanted behaviours such as the taking of drugs and the use of violence. It's the kind of music I have gravitated towards since I was a child. Many of the most sexually explicit songs don't make it on radio. Nowadays, it's different. Songs go viral via social media and other music platforms such as Spotify and YouTube which allows them to make it to the top of the charts. In my eyes, the difference between 'WAP' and previous chart-toppers such as 'Candy Shop' or 'Lollipop' is that there was a hidden meaning to the songs.
This is not the first time I have been uncomfortable with the public promotion of sexually explicit music. I had a long Instagram rant last year about a cafe playing the uncensored version of 'Or Nah' by Ty Dolla $ign quite loudly in a cafe with young children, between the ages of 3 and 9.
Before anyone accuses me of being against female empowerment, I am not at all against the song and its lyrics. Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, you do you. In fact, I think we do need more music to be more sexually empowering for women - we need to normalise female sexual pleasure, including providing more in-depth education around female orgasms. Through years and years of sexual education in both Catholic and non-denominational schooling, the female orgasm was hardly explained in any detail. I think it was mentioned once in 9th-grade biology that it exists. However, I remember being quizzed over and over again about the mechanics of male ejaculation as if that is the only part of sex which holds any importance. However, these are all conversations which need to be had in a mature setting. They should be up to the individual parents and schools when these topics are discussed - the education shouldn't be coming from Cardi B's latest track.
The discomfort I feel around this song is based on the fact it is number one on the charts. It's everywhere on Instagram and TikTok, platforms which are available for use by children as young as 13 years of age. When I was young, social media just didn't exist in the same way it does today. If my mum didn't want me watching any of these music videos, she just made sure I didn't watch 'Rage' on a Saturday morning. Now, parents need to monitor phone and internet use as well as TV use, and it is becoming more and more difficult to protect children.
This is our reality. Our reality is 7-year-old children wanting to dance to a song promoting vaginal lubrication. It is the world we live in now. It is wrong, and I wish there was a way that this could be fixed overnight. But it can't.
'Cuties' discusses our reality. It talks about the fact that 'western femininity' is becoming hypersexualised during the preadolescent years. It also touches on the contract between the feminity of one culture and another and the need to reconcile those two juxtaposing ideals for people who immigrate to another country.
There have been some things questionable about the film. The main issue people have held with Cuties is the poster used to advertise on Netflix which showed four young girls in very sexually suggestive poses in revealing dance outfits, including one girl with her legs spread (not front-on to the camera) and two girls mid-twerk. The platform also described the dance crew as a 'twerking dance crew'. This poster and description have since been taken down and an apology has been publicly issued from Netflix.
A lot of people have criticised the movie beyond this, saying that preadolescent girls should not be shown to be twerking (which I would then encourage people to understand the history of the dance move as opposed to just categorise the dance move in a way that suits their views). It then begs the question as to whether or not people know what kind of things 13-year-olds are doing on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat in the real world. As a user on these platforms and as someone who has friends with children in that age bracket and as someone who used somewhat similar platforms during my teen years, the themes in the movie are quite softcore compared to other incidents occurring in the online realm today.
The film is also criticised for the overtly sexual portrayal and filming style of these young girls dancing. There are close-ups of their bottoms and faces while they perform sexually suggestive acts. My understanding of the reason for shooting in this style is to highlight the precise copying from what they see on television and the internet. The dance clips of these girls are shot in the exact style you would expect the latest chart-topper to be shot in. These young girls are just mimicking what they see and their perception is that the behaviour shown in those videos is what makes you a 'grown-up'. And what kid hasn't tried being a grown-up. From pretending to be in the military or at war to dressing in your parents' clothes to dancing the same way you see in videos to even carrying around a baby doll, pretending you're its mother. Every child has tried to grow up before their age. This film purely highlights how the presence of explicit sexuality throughout society is contributing to the repertoire of mimicked behaviour by young people, especially young girls.
There are many that are saying 'Cuties' is an over-dramatisation of what 11-year-old behaviour looks like. The 11-year-old daughter of one of my dearest friends is so far opposite to the conduct of any of these girls in the movie. She wouldn't even imagine what some of these actions are. However, there are girls I remember in primary school between the ages of 10 and 12 years of age who would incessantly flirt with our physical education teacher (who also happened to be a distant cousin of mine). He would have to constantly walk away from these girls who were testing boundaries. I have also worked backstage helping to organise dance competitions, and there is a constant need for the entire backstage team to address the behaviours of some of these girls because the parents are either absent, unwilling to address it or, worst of all, encouraging of the behaviour.
The scariest part about the film and arguably the most confronting part of the film to the viewers who are horrified by the movie is that it portrays the reality of the world we are living in - a world where we are pressuring young women to promote their own sexuality because we are led to believe it will give us more 'likes' or 'followers'. A world where that kind of behaviour is shown to be financially rewarded as influencers live their lavish lifestyles so publicly on social media. If you feel confronted by the themes discussed in this movie, I suggest you review your own behaviours in society.
As of today, I am unfollowing any account on Instagram that promotes sexuality beyond what I would be comfortable for my 13-year-old to see on such a platform - from both male and female influencers. This is not to say I will be unfollowing any accounts which promote body positivity and share photos of women and men loving the skin they are in.
This has also given me a chance to reflect on what I share out into the world and ensure that it is content I would be comfortable for my own children to view.
If we are really disgusted by children being oversexualised from a young age, it is time we take action about it - not just cancel a Netflix subscription over a movie (I assume) many of us haven't yet watched and is actually leading the way to promote a conversation in this space.