Netflix review: Provocative 'Cuties' is a disturbing, uncomfortable coming-of-age film

Fred Hawson

Posted at Sep 15 2020 04:13 PM

The young actresses of 'Cuties'

Amy (Fathia Youssouf) was an 11 year-old immigrant girl from Senegal now living in Paris. She lived with her mother Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) and her two younger brothers. They had an old religious Aunt (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) who was a stickler for traditions and ceremonials. Her father was going to bring a new bride home with him to live in their apartment, and this was causing a lot of stress in their family. 

At school, Amy was attracted to join a rebellious clique of young girls her age, namely Angie (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), Coumba (Esther Gohourou), Jess (Ilanah Cami-Goursolas) and Yasmine (Myriam Hamma). They enjoyed to dress up and dance in a sexy provocative style which was very mature for their age. When they learned of a local group dance contest, they were determined to join it and win it under the group name "Cuties."

The basic story of "Cuties" was that of Amy being confused about the strict religious conditions in their house and the freedom enjoyed by her fellow girls in their school. The better Amy knew how bad these girls were, the more fascinated she was to be one of them. Amy would eventually lie and steal and hurt others to keep up with her mates. Later on, it was even Amy who taught them the sleaziest dance moves. Much later she went overboard by brazenly posting a photo of her nether regions online. Such was the disturbing "coming-of-age" we see in this film.

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This film felt uncomfortable mainly because these were actual 11 year-old child actresses who did sexually-charged scenes, like entering a men's room to take a video of a boy inside, or attempting to seduce an older boy to get his mobile phone, or blowing up a condom to make a breast. Then, there was that final dance number with the girls bumping and grinding in skimpy outfits, with cameras positioned at the most unflattering angles. Honestly, I had to fast-forward through these scenes as they were hard for me to take. 

As a parent of a daughter myself, it had always been objectionable for me to see little girls wearing skimpy clothes and twerking away on a TV variety show, or online on a TikTok video. We know these things should not be tolerated, but sadly, they still do happen in real life. Sometimes, these are even encouraged by their own parents for monetary gain or social media popularity. This happens not only in liberal France, but even in the supposedly more conservative Catholic countries. This is indeed a legitimate cause for concern.

French-Senegalese writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré made this debut feature film of hers to make a statement against this objectification of young girls in organized religion vis a vis sexualization in the mass media. She even won a Best Director prize when she premiered it at the Sundance 2020. However, now that it is reaching a wider audience via Netflix, it is very ironic that her film is being perceived to be doing exactly what she was supposed to be fighting against. Her medium had clashed with her moral message.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."