Netflix is facing backlash from viewers following the Sept. 9 release of the French coming-of-age film “Cuties,” which features sexualized depictions of underage girls — depictions that have drawn mixed reactions from the Cal Poly Pomona community.
The film’s plot concerns a young girl who joins a group of dancers and begins to mature rather rapidly. Maïmouna Doucouré, the film’s writer and director, has stated that “Cuties” is meant to be a criticism of the sexualization of young girls. However, the film has amassed a critical response from audiences since its release for the way it depicts the subject matter.
Allysa Aceves, a second-year literary studies student, had a strong reaction to the film after finding out about it through YouTube’s discovery page. She decided to watch the film after hearing about the controversy and the message of the movie because she thought that “both justifications for it made sense.”
“I was completely blown away at how they could ever get away with this,” Aceves said. “I find it exploitative.”
In a Sept. 4 interview with Time magazine, Doucouré defended the film’s message by saying “this film tries to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible.”
The film’s message and the way its underage stars are portrayed has garnered strong reactions, negative as well as positive. Taneshi Noel, a third-year nutrition science student, felt that the film was critical of the culture it was portraying.
“From just looking at the movie, it looks like these girls are being overly sexualized. But when you look deeper, that’s the point,” Noel said. “Yes, the girls are sexualizing themselves, but they don’t fully understand it.”
Much of the controversy surrounding the film has been directed at the sexualized images of its stars. While the film itself may be critiquing those images, some believe that those sexualized images are being glorified through the film’s portrayal.
These critiques heightened when Netflix began promoting the film with a poster emphasizing the girls posing in revealing costumes. Levon Guaderrama, a second-year theater student, found that “the marketing seems to be relying on the sexualization of the young girls.”
The marketing of the film has drawn mixed responses for how it represents the plot and the themes.
“Works of art have complex meanings and how we interpret that can be very different. If people are judging it based on certain images, that’s not fair,” said philosophy professor Daisy LaForce.
Amid the accusations and debates surrounding the film’s marketing, Doucouré — who has been receiving death threats from angry viewers — revealed that she was not included in Netflix’s promotional materials, she told Deadline. Seeing the poster after being released to the American public, Doucouré reflected that it was “not representative of the film and especially to its message.”
Some viewers feel that the filmmaker’s intended critical look at its subject matter should be the focus of the discussion, as opposed to focusing on the marketing of the film.
“You have to be open to new messages,” Noel said. “I wish people would open up to it more to see why a movie like this was put out.”
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