Opinion: ‘Cuties’ has young girls exploring their identity in exploitative ways


Photo courtesy of The Verge.

Netflix caused a big controversy when they ‘Cuties’ on Sep. 9.  ‘Cuties’, written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, is a French film designed to draw attention to the problems that young women are facing today. However, some have argued that it only perpetuates those problems by having its main actors, who were all young girls, dancing and dressing like adults. Could Netflix have drawn attention to this issue using a different avenue?

The main character in the film is an eleven-year-old African girl named Amy. When she moves to a new town with her mother and siblings to wait for her father and his new wife, she befriends another girl, Angelica, in her complex. Angelica, a free-spirited and provocative girl, convinces Amy to rebel against her family traditions by joining her dance group, the “Cuties”. 

The dance group was the main reason for the film’s backlash, as these young girls end up dressing and dancing very provocatively in this group. These prepubescent girls were dancing as if they were twenty-one years old in the club. I, like many others, was horrified by the way these little girls had to act. 

Doucouré has explained in interviews that ‘Cuties’ was intended to be a social commentary on how young girls, especially young girls of color, are often oversexualized by adults. In a society where most role models for young girls are half-naked women, they would naturally try to explore their own identities in similar ways. Most real-life girls around their age just want to impress each other and they will do anything to do so. 

‘Cuties’ also shows the problem in not showing young girls respect in the way society tends to treat their hobbies and struggles. As a young girl in a traditional African family, Amy was brought up learning how to cook, clean and make clothes for her present and future family instead of her building up her own self-worth. This is the reality of many young girls across the world, and ‘Cuties’ tries to show why this needs to be changed.

In a way, Netflix was brave in being so upfront about this issue and opening up a dialogue about it. As a society, we always blame the victim and not the perpetrator for crimes like sexual harassment and assualt. We blame the “grown-up” young girls and not the parents or families. At one part of the film, because Amy’s family did not teach her about respecting her image, she ends up taking an inappropriate photo of herself and putting it online. The parents in the film were rarely involved in their children’s lives, save for Amy’s aunt and, very occasionally, her mother.

However, despite these good intentions, ‘Cuties’ still portrays these little girls far too sexually. At the end of the film, Amy realizes how her innocence was being destroyed by this dance group. I could understand why viewers were horrified how these girls were dancing and dressing like grown women. They are still little girls, and we should not sexualize them in these ways.

In my opinion, Doucouré should have made this film a documentary or not have little girls dancing sexually on stage. Even though these eleven-year-old girls were acting, they had to do this for everyone — including pedophiles — to watch. 

I hope that ‘Cuties’ does not influence these young girls to start dressing and dancing this way, no matter what message it was trying to send.