Netflix film ‘Cuties’ ‘normalizes sexualization of little girls,’ critics say

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Sen. Ted Cruz, other lawmakers call for Justice Department investigation

A new film that debuted last week on Netflix has sparked a firestorm of criticism for its provocative and suggestive depiction of young female actors that “normalizes the sexualization of little girls,” according to reports.

The independent film production titled “Mignonnes,” or “Cuties,” caused an immediate uproar in Washington and beyond as pre-teen girls in the movie are shown performing dance moves similar to those seen inside adult entertainment venues.

The foreign language film first raised eyebrows in August, when Netflix began promoting it with a movie poster that featured several scantily clad girls. As criticism mounted against the marketing materials, Netflix issued an apology and removed the posters.

But since the film’s release last week on the streaming service, the backlash has snowballed into a full-scale campaign against the film, with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas calling on the Justice Department to investigate the film’s production and distribution.

Adding to the controversy are false claims that the movie features child nudity, which is not true, according to The Associated Press.

“Cuties” is a coming-of-age tale about an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant named Amy who lives in an impoverished Paris suburb under the close eye of her Muslim family. The girl falls into a clique of rebellious young girls at her middle school who choreograph dance routines and dress in crop tops and heels. In between “twerking,” the girls talk on a range of topics, from Kim Kardashian and fad diets to boys and sex, which they don’t yet fully understand.

In a statement, Netflix defended the film as a “social commentary against the sexualization of young children” and attributed the rampant inaccuracies to the fact that some critics had not seen the film, the AP reported.

“It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.

This image released by Netflix shows the cast of the coming-of-age film "Cuties." The backlash to the French independent film “Mignonnes,” or “Cuties,” started before it had even been released because of a poster that went viral for its provocative depiction of its young female actors.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The streaming service’s stance, however, failed to quiet the film’s detractors.

In Cruz’s letter to Attorney General William Barr last week, he urged the nation’s top law enforcement officer to “determine whether Netflix, its executives, or the individuals involved in the filming and production of ‘Cuties’ violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”

In a Sunday interview with Fox News Channel, Cruz explained his opposition to the film, arguing that Netflix is “making money by selling the sexual exploitation of young kids.” Cruz and others have also pointed to the production deal between Netflix and former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, although neither has any association with the film “Cuties.”

Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado also tweeted that he and Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona also want the Justice Department to investigate.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, also sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings asking for the film to be removed from the platform while he awaits answers about how the film was made and marketed.

Criticism for the film also surfaced among Democrats.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard went on Twitter and flatly called the film “child porn” and included a photo of the recalled poster saying it would “certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

“Netflix, you are now complicit,” Gabbard said.

Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council, said the film “normalizes the sexualization of little girls,” and more than 640,000 accounts have signed a Change.org petition calling on users to cancel their Netflix accounts over the film.

Some film critics have also weighed in on the controversy and highlighted the merits of the film.

“It would have been easy for (Maimouna) Doucouré to use a broad brush to paint the different extremes of Amy’s experience (‘stifling tradition bad, dancing good’), but she’s not exactly making ‘Footloose’ here,” New York Magazine film critic Bilge Ebiri wrote. “'Cuties' is not a blunt screed or a finger-wagging cautionary tale in either direction — which is one reason why anyone watching the film looking for clear messages about right and wrong is bound to be disappointed, maybe even outraged.”

Doucouré was inspired to make the film partly because she observed some 11-year-old girls dancing “like we’re used to seeing in video clips” at a gathering in Paris and wanted to investigate why such young girls were mimicking such adult behavior.

“Our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she is successful. Children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning,” Doucouré said. “It is dangerous.”

— Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.