Netflix has defended the controversial film Cuties as “a social commentary against the sexualisation of young children”, and encouraged people to watch the movie before passing judgment.
Critics have blasted the film, which is available on the streaming service, for showing pre-teen girls performing sexualised dance routines.
The story follows Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who rebels against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a “free-spirited dance crew”, and dramatises the difficulties of growing up as a young girl in a sexualised media culture.
In a video explaining why she made the film, writer-director Maimouna Doucoure said she considers it be “a deeply feminist film with an activist message” that is a “mirror of today’s society, a mirror sometimes difficult to look into”.
She said she got the idea after seeing a group of 11-year-old girls dancing in a way “you would see in a video clip” during a neighbourhood gathering in Paris.
The director said she spent the next year and a half meeting with hundreds of pre-teens to learn about how they felt about their femininity in today’s society, and how they felt about their self-image in the era of social media.
Doucoure said: “Our girls see that the more a woman is sexualised on social media, the more she’s successful.
“And the children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning. And yeah, it’s dangerous.”
She added: “(Amy) believes she can find her freedom through that group of dancers and their hyper-sexualisation. But is that really true freedom? Especially when you are a kid? Of course not. Amy will, at the end, realise she can control her own path.”
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, where Doucoure won the world cinema dramatic directing award.
A change.org petition calling for people to cancel their subscriptions to the streaming service because of the film has received 600,000 signatures and “#CancelNetflix” has been trending on Twitter.
A Netflix spokesman said: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualisation of young children.
“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.”