'Cuties' backlash leads to #CancelNetflix over sexualization of children

Netflix plans to release up to 700 original TV shows and movies in 2018.
Netflix plans to release up to 700 original TV shows and movies in 2018. | REUTERS/Mike Blake

A backlash is ensuing over a French film called "Cuties" currently being streamed on Netflix because of content many say sexualizes 11-year-old girls and promotes the normalization of pedophilia.

The film, which faced controversy earlier this year when Netflix advertised it with a poster showing a group of young girls posing suggestively in skimpy dance outfits, has generated further outrage now that the movie can be viewed in its entirety. Clips of the film of the girls gyrating provocatively, which feature close-up camera shots of their scantily-clad bodies, have gone viral on social media.

Many Twitter users likened it to child porn and said they would no longer subscribe to the online streaming service and urged others to do likewise, accompanied by a #cancelnetflix hashtag, which was the top trending topic on the social media utility Thursday.

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Defenders of the film in mainstream media outlets asserted that those complaining about the film missed the larger point, that the overall message of the movie actually makes a case against the sexualization of children. But the backlash has highlighted a disconnect between film critics and much of the mainstream media who praised the movie and the masses who were repulsed by it — an online petition has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures urging people to cancel Netflix and criticizing the film.

The filmmaker, Maïmouna Doucouré, is a French-Senegalese director and screenwriter. The film won the short film international fiction jury award at the Sundance film festival in 2016.

Aja Romano, who is on the culture staff at Vox, said Thursday that she considered the movie "a wonderful, poignant, challenging and nuanced coming-of-age film, smartly crafted by a wonderful director" and dismissed the controversy around it as "propaganda fueled by QAnon types and anti-Semites."

"I'm frankly delighted by a bunch of bigots settling in with pitchforks to flame the pedophile movie and discovering this lovely subtle story about girls battling fraught gender roles," she added.

Prominent outlets like Rolling Stone, The Associated Press, Vulture, The New Yorker, and others all wrote positively of the film, with some mocking objections as right-wing fear-mongering.

Netflix is defending its move to host the movie on its platform, saying in a statement to the Daily Caller Thursday that the film is "award-winning" and a "powerful story" that is a "social commentary against the sexualization of young children."

Some who saw the clips of the movie are not buying that explanation.

"This is not a 'commentary' on child sexual exploitation — it is child sexual exploitation, clear as day, in all its sadism," wrote commentator Matt Walsh in a Thursday Daily Wire column.

"With these horrific scenes now publicly available, it seems almost pointless to engage with the plainly absurd notion that the filmmakers had 11-year-old children writhe around and gyrate while barely clothed as some kind of protest against the sexualization of children. It would be like a slasher film, featuring several scenes of various screaming victims being disemboweled for our amusement, claiming in its defense that it only meant to comment on the problem of graphic violence in film."

Writing on his blog at The American Conservative, author Rod Dreher concurred Friday, noting that "[w]hether the director (who is a woman) intends to or not, she has made a film that serves to accustom us to the sexualization of children."

"The problem with Cuties — and it’s what destroys the movie — is aesthetic, and ultimately moral: it engages and demonstrates with great passion the very thing it purports to condemn," he said.

Messianic Jewish scholar Michael Brown said Thursday that in light of current cultural trends he was not shocked by the content in "Cuties" and that it necessitates "a time of sweeping repentance" on the part of everyone.

"I’m not in the least bit surprised. Not when a sexually degrading, vulgar song can be the number one hit in the nation (and in other nations). Not when there is an epidemic of porn sweeping the land, affecting the religious and non-religious alike. Not when our legislators pass laws protecting sexually aggressive adults (who have sex with younger teens). Not when we celebrate 11-year-old drag queens dancing in gay bars," Brown said.

He continued that "it is not just the film critics who are sick. It is not just those who exploited those young girls in Cuties (this includes their parents, who allowed it) who are sick. No, our whole nation is sick, drowning in a sea of depravity.

"In short, either we have a massive spiritual and moral awakening, or we perish."

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