Mary McNamara: 'Cuties' isn't what I expected. It's a powerful portrait of female rage

By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Well, I finally watched that movie everyone is talking about.

No, not "Tenet," which did not manage to single-handedly revive the film industry from its pandemic-induced coma in a week. I watched "Cuties," Maimouna Doucoure's film about an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant in France who rebels against her conservative culture by hurling herself into certain extremities of the modern world - social media and sexually provocative dancing - only to find them just as oppressive.

You know, the pedophile movie.

I'm not trying to be flip about pedophilia - the sexual abuse and exploitation of children are real and never funny.

It's also absolutely not the way any sane person would categorize this movie.

In the essentials, "Cuties" is a fairly basic and recognizable story: troubled girl attempts to find herself by gaining the acceptance of others and winning a dance contest. Unfortunately, Netflix, which picked up the film after its well-received Sundance premiere, marketed it with a poster that made many people deeply and righteously upset. The image especially - of four 11-year-old girls in full makeup, scanty costumes and come-hither expressions - was shocking even in the modern "Dance Moms"/"Toddlers and Tiaras" context.


The image was also, as everyone who had actually seen "Cuties" rushed to point out, misrepresentative of the film and directly antithetical to its message.

Netflix apologized and changed its marketing language and image but alas, it was too late. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially (Dare I say it?) in an election year, and "Cuties" found itself accused in many quarters of exploiting girls and courting pedophiles. #CancelNetflix trended, Ted Cruz weighed in, Hollywood was reviled, Doucoure was threatened, QAnon was invoked and a veritable flotilla of culture-war think pieces were launched.

In America, that is. In other parts of the world, including France and Senegal, the movie premiered to praise for its portrayal of a child pulled between two cultures. No one would think to categorize it as pedophilic or pornographic because that would be crazy. That would be culturally embarrassing.

Choking on the fumes of the Bobcat fire and the general conflagration of California which many, including the president, deny has anything to do with climate change; fuming myself over the existence of Americans who still refuse to wear masks and a postmaster general who seems intent on slowing down the mail, I was really hoping that once Netflix took responsibility for its "inappropriate artwork," the completely ridiculous "Cuties" scandal would just "fade away," like the coronavirus of Trump's dreams.


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