Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ will make you dance with discomfort

Nina Geoghegan

With platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and more, it is clear that social media has a considerable presence in our everyday lives. Some believe that it has a rather harmful effect on the process of growing up, forcing young girls into premature adulthood. This message is conveyed in Maïmouna Doucouré’s film “Cuties.” Doucouré attempts to bring the argument to life through the depiction of French-Senegalese 11-year-old Amy’s (Fathia Youssouf) social-media influenced childhood. The story follows the young protagonist as she joins a scandalous dance group and struggles to separate this new life from the one in her conservative household. However, instead of achieving her original goal of exposing toxic media culture, Doucouré created a work that made viewers squirm in their seats.

The ‘Cuties’ dance group after a day of shopping as portrayed by the movie’s poster. (Image courtesy of IMDb)

“Cuties” is most definitely not worth the painful hour and a half runtime. The French indie film has been nominated for multiple awards and even claimed the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award, however, audiences seem to disagree with the movie’s success. “Cuties”currently holds a 2.9 out of 10 star rating on IMDb and has come under heavy fire for its shocking content that borders –– or possibly qualifies as –– child exploitation.

The film opens with a close up of Amy as the camera slowly zooms in on her tearstained face. The screen flashes on and off and lights beam, making for a rather visually assaulting scene. The hazy video is overlayed with an audio track of her mother singing in a contextless and confusing clip taken from much later in the film. 

This is not the only loose thread in the movie. The theme of disorienting cinematography is carried throughout the piece’s duration in a collection of the protagonist’s unexplained visions. With little to no confirmation of what is reality, what is fantasy and why certain scenes were included, viewers are unable to get a grasp of each scenes’ significance to the plot.

Amy (played by Fathia Youssouf) in costume on the group’s big performance day at the local competition (Image courtesy of IMDb)

Nonetheless, these flaws are not comparable to the biggest issue surrounding the controversial film: the sexualization of children. Almost every minute of “Cuties” is filled with the middle school dance group shaking their bottoms and making suggestive expressions. Yes, it is in fact as uncomfortable to watch as it sounds. 

Toward the very end of the movie, the girls perform on stage at a local competition. This was possibly the most memorable scene, and not in a positive way. Consisting of nearly two-and-half minutes of grinding, twerking, fingers in mouths and more, the film crosses a line. While trying to get her point across, Doucouré made minors perform moves unfit for children—even if they are trying to prove a point.

When brought to Netflix, “Cuties” caused an uproar, resulting in roughly nine million subscription cancellations and a loss of revenue according to IMDb. Additionally, the company made the error of displaying an inappropriate poster on the Netflix website. Audiences were outraged, claiming that the image furthered the out-of-pocket sexualization of the underaged girls and it was quickly taken down and replaced soon after.

With its blurry storyline and casual child exploitation, it truly deserves a below-sea-level rating. The abundance of cringe-invoking scenes don’t make for the best movie to watch with friends, much less family. However, if films that cause lots of awkward sweating are your thing, “Cuties” may be for you!  

The girls learned rather adult facial expressions to spice up their routine (Image courtesy of IMDb)