Cuties is a direct-to-Internet movie aired by Netflix in 2020. It featured teenage and pre-teen girls wiggling their tight little bodies in dance competitions, ostensibly to make the point to its aging male audience that using girls in such exploitative ways was improper. Cuties exceeded even the overlong Lord of the Rings movies in driving viewers to the lavatory.
The directors strove to establish the movie as serious social commentary rather than just Internet trolling. To this end, they included one strategic glimpse of pre-teen bare breast. Fatefully, that scene triggered every county attorney in the entire state of Texas, resulting in litigation.
Amy is an 11-year-old immigrant from Senegal who lives in the slums of Paris with her mother under traditional Islamic culture. Dad is around too, but is collecting additional wives. Amy is horrified at this, bored with other aspects of the family's old-country ways, and especially annoyed that her aunt, who lives nearby, wants to fit her for a suicide vest.
Adolescent rebellion kicks in, and Amy is fascinated by naughty neighbor Angelica and her twerking dance troupe, named "Cuties". Amy tries to fit right in, introducing suggestive dance moves and revealing costumes, and photographing her privates for possible use in the troupe's posters. But new cultures are so hard to understand; and instead, she gets thrown off the troupe in favor of former member Yasmine. She catches hell at home as well.
Now, in case you haven't seen the same thing play out in that roller derby movie, the final competition that Amy really wants to attend is on the exact same day as Dad's induction into polygamy that Amy would do anything to avoid. Except she has to attend as a good Muslim daughter. Alas, rebellion kicks in again, Amy sneaks out of the house and shoves Yasmine into mud so as to ruin her costume and render her unfit for competition. Amy takes Yasmine's place and twerks her little butt off, shocking the audience, who must have thought they were taking in a poetry reading. However, in the middle of the routine, rebellion flames out, Amy bursts into tears, and she runs off stage.
That bitch of an aunt is at the house when Amy arrives, and reams Amy out again for her slutty outfit and bad attitude. But Amy's mother defends Amy and a few seconds of mother-daughter bonding occurs. Amy gets out of going to Dad's wedding, but Mom has to go to receive traditional Islamic pwnage. In the film's final scene, Amy comes full-circle and embraces her cultural traditions. She sets aside both the revealing dance costume and the wedding dress and finally tries on the suicide vest.
Cuties was the first feature film of Maïmouna Doucouré, which she says was inspired by her own life as a refugee, a talent show she saw in Paris, and the contrast between the cultures of France and Senegal, the former colonizing the latter for a little bauxite but instead getting a whole lot of farm animals in downtown apartments and calls to prayer before the break of dawn.
Casting for the film took a full ten years, as no sooner had the final pre-pubescent girl been cast than the first had gone entirely through puberty and in most cases was pregnant. Filming took place in various locations in France while no one was looking. Doucouré said she "created a climate of trust" between the child stars and herself, always assuring the untrusting that they could be un-stars. She assured the children she would only ask them to perform stunts they had probably already seen on
4chan, say, in the
webx-nsfw section. Doucouré said the girls' parents were "activists" too and were on-board with all the seductive dancing she was getting their daughters to do. She hired a psychologist and did 18 months of "research" on the forces affecting young girls. She said "it's important for society to have a discussion of these issues." Unfortunately, society eventually got too busy having a discussion of her flick.
Cuties premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and Doucouré won a directing award for the category of soft porn one can take in and, like a National Geographic issue on tribal women, claim to be doing something educational. Netflix bought the rights to show Cuties outside France, and released it internationally on 9 September 2020.
Much like when Rush Limbaugh says something racist, no one batted an eye at the time, not until more devious minds weighed the possibility of turning it into a controversy. The odds got better when Netflix published a poster a good bit racier than the one used in France. Suddenly, there was something spicier to discuss than the Coronavirus or replacing Donald Trump. The Parents Television Council demanded that Netflix cancel the offering, and a petition on
Boycott.us for people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions got 600,000 signatures and IP addresses, maybe a dozen of which actually did so. In Latin America, #NetflixPedofilia started trending on Twitter, resulting in enough new subscribers to offset any cancellations.
In response, Netflix acted remorseful and replaced the promotional poster with a new one with duct tape over all the naughty bits, claiming the old poster "was not an accurate representation of the film." The new poster depicts the 11-year-olds wearing bras and panties over their clothing, as though anyone does that, especially in a dance competition.
Response from the Muslim world was more severe, though no one took issue with the revealing costumes, but rather with the notion that a pre-teen should doubt Islam even if she finally returns to it. Doucouré said she got death threats on social media, something she never encountered during her 18 months of researching online smut. Worst of all, anonymous reviewers started writing negative reviews on IMDb. Netflix defended Cuties, calling it "social commentary against the sexualization of young children" and calling for everyone to watch it to see how important it is to wipe out such things.
But the worst was yet to come. Sen. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), frustrated in her attempt to win the Presidential nomination, had enough spare time to label the film "child porn" that would "whet the appetite of pedophiles." Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who always has too much time on his hands, wrote to Attorney General William Barr asking whether Netflix had produced or distributed child pornography. However, between coronavirus relief packages and sparring in the Presidential campaign, no one in Washington, D.C. did anything. That was left to County Attorneys in Texas, and Texas has a lot of counties, none of which the Netflix Board of Directors could ever find on a map. It fell to Tyler County, a full day's mule ride northeast of Houston totally lacking cable networks, to file charges that Netflix "did knowingly exhibit the pubic area of a partially clothed child younger than 18...without literary, artistic, or scientific value" — to a Texan, which, if it doesn't include crop prices, put-near covers everything. Netflix stood its ground, writing that "Cuties is a social commentary. We stand by the film." Commentators up and down the American West Coast called the charges "baseless and absurd" and said it was "troubling" to file charges against a movie, except perhaps one that disparaged Hillary Clinton. Netflix chief Ted Sarandos gave a trade-group keynote address in which he said "it is surprising that in 2020, we are having a discussion about censoring storytelling." If anything, he said it should be the yarns spun nightly by Trump and Joe Biden.
Cuties holds a rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus reads: "Cuties is a coming-of-age film that confronts its themes with poignancy, nuance, and wiggly butts." At Metacritic, 16 critics are "generally favorable," and the most common positive comment is: "Wa-hey!"
On the Roger Ebert website, a review states that Cuties "pushes to the limit the idea that 'depiction does not equal endorsement'"; that is, that showing porn is actually an anti-porn statement unless the viewer is soooo dense. Other reviewers complained about "hypersexualization" of young girls, then quickly added that the complaint is not about the film but about society and especially about men who watch the film. The Washington Post defended the film and called for its critics to be doxxed, yelled at when dining out, and have their careers ruined.
Cuties is still available on-demand at Netflix and streaming remains heavy, especially around midnight. However, the film remains a touchstone in campaigns against both exploitation of underage girls and criticism of Islam. (Mutilation of underage girls in Arabia continues apace and is not considered exploitative if the patients are demurely clothed.) Netflix has set up an autonomous division to produce films about rodeo and crop-dusting, which might mollify jurists in Tyler County.
Films about under-age teases continue to enjoy box-office success, likewise pre-teen dance contests themselves.