Netflix’s “Cuties” – an unwarranted scandal and the failure of social media

Netflix is no stranger to controversy and is often a springboard for a lot of discussion when it comes to its unique films and documentaries. As most other entertainment-related matters, it is always a hit and miss, depending on the region, the audience’s cultural profile, the age group, and the open or narrow-mindedness of certain groups. At the centre of the latest storm is the newly released French movie “Cuties”, a directorial debut of French-Sengalese Maïmouna Doucouré which falls under the genre coming-of-age drama and has sparked a vicious social-media campaign against Netflix and the director. The current discussions and petitions flying across the USA and much of social media remind me of the time when E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey came out, scandalising most of the conservative and ultra religious groups throughout much of North America and some parts of Asia, many of whom never even read the book to begin with.

Let’s get a few things straight:

  1. Watch the entire movie before you jump on the bandwagon and sign any petition. What is being circulated is a small snippet from the dance performance and is being taken completely out of context. I was drawn into the whole social media controversy and the writer and child protection advocate in me sat up to attention. So I watched the movie, and have to say that any argument and attempt to bring down the film or the director is misplaced and completely misguided. The script, the storyline, and the direction are brilliant, sensitive, and contain a deep affinity and insight into both the Senegalese and French cultures. I agree with the critics on this one, and find the movie reflective of several current social issues that need to be addressed by schools, parents, and any responsible adult dealing with tweens and teens alike. There is nothing objectionable in the movie that I would raise a red flag to. If anything, this is one movie that should be promoted and supported for exposing the damage social media does to the young and vulnerable members of society. I would be the first one to object violently if I felt the movie endangered or manipulated children in any way. On the contrary, it raises valuable issues that need to be addressed, and that begins at home. Any parent or teacher who turns a blind eye to cyber bullying, social media addiction, social maladjustment, and growing pains needs to re-read a parenting handbook and watch Cuties from start to finish.
  2. The Cuties controversy begins with a faulty marketing decision and strategy. If Netflix is to blame for anything it is for its inadequate and insensitive marketing of the movie. The choice of image used for the promotion was not the wisest decision and is entirely misleading. Trailers are not easy to put together and they have to be able to draw in an audience by the sheer manipulation of the imagination and curiosity a. if it is an unknown cast b. it is neither Hollywood, Bollywood, Korean drama, or non-europeans, and c. the subject matter deals with relevant social issues. So if the trailer was intended to be spicy and dramatic, well and good but whoever put together the marketing campaign at Netflix committed an error of judgement that ended up doing the film, cast, and director a great disservice. On the other hand, the worldwide scandal is probably the best publicity one could hope for! These critically acclaimed movies that have been awarded at film festivals on a more subdued level don’t always hit the commercial mark at the box office.
  3. Check your facts before you share or forward anything on social media. Whether it is a short video extracted from a movie, or part of a speech, or even supposedly public service information regarding the pandemic, for crying out loud check your damn facts first, find out the source and use some common sense. Much to the chagrin of doctors and healthcare workers, social media has been the greatest source of false information, stupid information, and ridiculous conspiracy theories and Cuties is just another victim in a long line of misinformation. To accuse Cuties with soft porn or child pornography as is currently being done is a huge mistake, and a clear sign that whoever does so has not watched the movie.

Perhaps because I am a literary activist who deals with human rights and child trafficking issues that I am not scandalised at all by Cuties. Or maybe it is because I have been inculturated by the European attitude of being more open about sex and sexual issues as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. But as an author who believes strongly in realistic or representative characters, has a strong presence for psycho-social issues, and insist on a manuscript that is not an insult to my intelligence, I find Cuties to be a movie to be watched for all the right and relevant reasons: sex education, responsible use of the internet and social media for underaged, bullying, peer pressure, women in Islam, and what everyone else seems to overlook, Third Culture Kids. Nobody, absolutely nobody has brought this issue up yet in relation to Cuties, and how well it has been woven into the story.

The bottom line is that the death threats being issued to Mdme Maïmouna Doucouré are unjustified. There are many other movies and documentaries on Netflix I openly object to and would gladly destroy, but they are not worth my time and effort.

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