There has been a great deal of hype around the Netflix movie Cuties recently. I tend to observe the culture of the Internet and let the dust settle before I comment on trends, although sometimes I don’t comment at all as I don’t want to be part of the misinformation. In January of 2020, Cuties premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In August, it was released in France, its country of origin. Netflix then purchased worldwide rights to the film and added it in September. Since its release, I’ve seen such headlines as:
“Cuties controversy sparks #CancelNetflix campaign” -The Guardian “Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ slammed for ‘sexualizing’ little girls” -New York Post “Netflix, Accused of Sexualizing Girls, Pulls Artwork for ‘Cuties’”– New York Times
There have also been headlines defending Netflix and the filmmaker, such as:
“Controversy Over Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ Was Outrageous, Unfair And Incorrect” -Forbes “Cuties Director Defends Film, Says Hyper-Sexualizing Young Girls Is a ‘Real Issue’” -Yahoo “Despite What You May Have Heard, Film ‘Cuties’ Is A Thoughtful Exploration Of Adolescent Pressures” -WBUR “Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ Doesn’t Advocate Sexualizing Young Girls—It Condemns It” -Decider
Here is a brief description of Cuties from IMDB (Internet Movie DataBase): “Amy, an 11-year-old girl, joins a group of dancers named “the Cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process.”
If you haven’t watched Cuties, you may be really lost in the conflicting headlines. I decided to watch it and give you a few observations so you can decide if it’s for you. Here are a few points that stuck out to me:
-The actors in Cuties depict 11 year olds. I couldn’t find much information on the actors, but they very much appear to be 11 year olds. Back in the day, the show 90210 had 20 year olds cast as high school students. Cuties appears to have cast age-accurate girls.
-One of the first scenes occurs in the laundry room of an apartment. Angelica is dancing in tight leather pants while bent over getting laundry from the dryer. This scene begins the theme of the camera being pointed specifically at the buttocks and groin areas of the young actors that will continue through the movie.
-Amy steals a smartphone from an adult male relative and begins taking selfies and editing them.
-In the school bathroom, Amy is in a stall when she hears a group of girls talking about a penis in a girl’s mouth, rape, and that if a penis is long enough, it can go through the whole body and out her mouth. When Amy comes out of the stall, the group of girls are watching what is presumed as porn on one of their phones. After they leave the bathroom, they see a boy that one of the girls likes go into the boys’ bathroom. One of the girls dares Amy to sneak in and take a picture of his penis. She attempts to but is unsuccessful.
-Amy and Angelica are watching teen girls dance on a video on Amy’s stolen phone. One of the girls exposes a breast during the dance routine.
-On her phone, Amy watches women dance in what appears to be an adult men’s club. The women have very little clothes on. Amy studies their dancing style.
-One of the girls finds a condom at the park and blows it up. The other girls are horrified and tell her that “AIDS people have sex with that.”
-The girls are using a laptop in Yasmine’s bedroom. They are on a random video-chatting app talking with a man. They don’t have the camera on so he can’t see them. One of the girls types “do you like tits” and “do you want to touch mine?” Eventually Yasmine turns on the camera and the man tells them to get off and “go play with your dolls.”
-Amy wants to prove to Angelica that she can dance and be in the competition. To do so, she dances very provocatively (twerking, making thrusting movements with her hips while her finger is in her mouth, and by thrusting her pelvis onto the floor in a sexually suggestive manner) for Angelica who records the dance on a phone.
-Amy begins teaching the other girls how to dance provocatively. She shows them how to move their hips and shake their buttocks, and she uses her hands to smack them on the buttocks. She shows them how the women from the adult men’s club danced and teaches them to do the same moves (shaking their buttocks and simulating sex by thrusting the ground).
-The girls get caught sneaking into a laser tag park without paying. The men that work there catch them and ask for the girls’ parents’ phone numbers. Angelica tries to leave and one of the men holds her arm from leaving. She begins accusing him of sexually assaulting her. Another man that works there appears and says he will call the police. The girls then tell them they are dancers and start dancing provocatively to prove it. The men watch them dance and eventually let them leave.
-The next scene shows the girls practicing for the final dance competition. There are many angles of the camera pointed directly at their buttocks, legs, breasts, and crotch. Amy posts the video of their practice online and gets many “likes” and “hearts.” The next day in school, Amy dresses in tight leather pants and a shirt bearing cleavage. She gathers much more attention for her body from others in this scene.
-Amy gets in a fight in school with another girl. The girl pulls Amy’s pants down, exposing her underwear.
-Amy is chatting with Angelica on the stolen phone. The adult male relative she stole it from discovers her with his phone. He takes it. In an attempt to get it back, Amy takes off her jacket to expose a crop top. She then unbuttons her pants, pulls her zipper down, and attempts to pull her pants down. The man tells her to stop. Amy then grabs the phone from him and runs to the bathroom. She locks him out. She sits down on the ground, pulls her pants and underwear down, spreads her legs, and takes a picture of her crotch. She then uploads the picture to a site on the phone.
-The next day in school, Amy is asked to go to the front of the room for a project. A male peer smacks her buttocks and defends himself to the teacher by saying that it’s Amy’s fault for posting nude images online. Amy then stabs the boy with a pencil.
-As part of her punishment for stabbing the boy, Amy’s mother has her stand in a room in only a shirt and underwear while her mother sprays water on her in what appears to be a cleansing ritual. Amy shakes her body like she does when she is doing the provocative dancing, possibly pretending to be cleansed. There are many tight close-ups of her buttocks in wet underwear.
-Amy loses the friendship of her dance friends; they say that since she posted the nude photo, people are asking them for nude photos as well. They tell her she is no longer wanted in the group.
-Amy shows up, unwanted, at the final dance competition. She dances with the other girls in her group. The dance is so provocative and sexualized that people in the audience are giving “thumbs down” and shaking their heads. One woman covers her daughter’s eyes. The dance would be fitting for an men’s club. There are many close-up buttocks and crotch shots of the actors.
Defenders of this movie will say that the movie accurately portrays the sexualization of young girls by society. To a degree, this is accurate. But at what expense?
I am the father of an 11 year old daughter. As such, Cuties was a very difficult movie to watch. I would never allow my daughter to be one of these actors or view the movie. The movie was reportedly designed to show viewers how children are sexualized by society and technology. The movie maker may have inadvertently sexualized the young viewers who will watch it on Netflix. Cuties has a TV-MA rating, but so does 13 Reasons Why and that hasn’t stopped 11 year olds from watching the series. I suspect that in my chats with 5th and 6th grade girls this school year, this movie will come up as a talking point as they will have watched it. I wonder if they will have the same take-away message as the adults, or if some will follow the behaviors in Cuties, just as some did when they watched 13 Reasons Why.
P.S. Curious tween/teen boys may have an interest in this movie. I wouldn’t recommend they watch it either.