“Cuties”: Living in an Age of Misinformation
“The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero
I admit that I jumped on the bandwagon of hate when the poster and trailer for the Netflix movie, Cuties came out. I suppose that is why I felt I had to say something after being complicit with ignorance.
The North American marketing for the movie focused on the sensationalism of the plot, not the substance. While I’ve always said that bad publicity is still good publicity, perhaps this is an exception to the rule.
People hated what they saw and wanted Netflix to cancel the release of the film. Netflix refused.
Netflix stock has dropped since the film’s debut on September 9 as people cry out in disgust at the portrayal of the eleven-year-old girls in the movie.
But I genuinely have to ask this: did any of the naysayers watch the show? Because I’ll admit that while I definitely found several scenes very difficult to watch, there was still merit to the show overall.
The notion that I’ve gathered is that a show cannot be cringy as hell but also have a point. One reviewer has a glowing review and sparsely touches on how gross this movie can get while another only talks about the grossness.
Both reviewers are, in my opinion, myopic.
The main character, Amy, is new to the city and has no friends. Her family is Muslim and she finds out her father is about to take a second wife, which deeply upsets her mother.
She sees a girl, Angelica, dancing and ironing her hair in the laundry room and is fascinated by her moves. She sees the same girl at school with her friends (Coumba, Yasmin and Jess) and around town.
These girls really stand out because they all wear shorts or tight pants and tank tops. Everyone else around them dresses age-appropriately. This was weird but I didn’t cringe probably because in a sea of kids who dressed and acted normally, they were the token outliers.
Angelica warms up to Amy, but the other girls are quite mean to her throughout the show. There is a scene where the girls dare Amy to take a picture of a boy’s penis as he goes into the bathroom. She tries to film him, he yells at her to get lost and when she goes back outside, there’s no one there.
This is one of the scenes people have cited without any context. They don’t mention that she was being pranked and that the girls were taking advantage of her.
One might ask, “But why would Amy do such a thing? Why would a girl that is raised in a somewhat strict Muslim household do that?”
This is my main issue with the show. I understand that Amy feels her mother’s pain because her father is going to take a second wife. I understand that Amy doesn’t have any friends. I understand that Amy finds the dancing to be cool. But given her background and her initial temperament, these are not sufficient motivations for her to do what she does in the show.
At this point the dancing is somewhat goofy because it’s little kids trying to do things they just can’t do, but there were moments I had to look away because the cringe was overwhelming.
There was even a scene where Coumba takes a condom and blows it up. This is another scene people cite to show their disgust. But what they don’t say is that the other girls scream in fear of what Coumba is doing. They also show their ignorance when one of them suggests that condoms are things that only people with AIDS use.
Coumba begins to cry, admitting that she didn’t know what she was doing. So they all go to a bathroom and make her swish around disinfectant and soap to get rid of any AIDS that might be there.
I laughed because that whole ordeal while pretty horrifying was ultimately benign. It highlighted more of the children’s ignorance. I thought to myself that if this were a bunch of boys, no one would care. Boys are stereotypically gross and stupid.
Coumba’s act could’ve garnered far worse repercussions, but this just highlighted the importance of monitoring your children. Throughout the movie I kept asking myself, “Does this school not have a dress code? Are these parents that negligent?” One is a plot-hole, the other is a reality for many.
If the movie glorified the girls’ actions or the absentee parenting at certain moments, then I’d have a big problem. But in order to judge this, one would have had to watch the movie to the end. This isn’t Spring Breakers where a bunch of girls murder gang members and drive off in a Lambo.
At about the midpoint of the movie (41–42 minutes), the cringe really emerges.
Yasmin embarrasses Angelica, they fight and as a result, Yasmin is off the team. Amy shows Angelica that she knows the routine but she takes it a step further. She adds even more sexual dance moves which really excites Angelica. Coumba and Jess also love it and they add it to the routine.
When they debut this routine at the finals of the dance competition, all the adults frown in disgust at what they see. The kids are intrigued, but the parents and judges aren’t amused. One parent shields her daughter from seeing it.
This is why I have to question if people actually watched the show. The girls didn’t gain anything from their provocative dancing. They weren’t rewarded. They didn’t ride off into the sunset with the knowledge that twerking at 11 years old is lit.
For someone to watch the entire movie and to walk away thinking that the film glorified children doing sexual things is, in my opinion, dishonest.
Lest we forget the religious chastisement and cruel and unusual punishment from her Muslim matriarchs.
As I said before, Amy’s character changes far too wildly for me to buy her character arc. In what feels like a matter of a few weeks, she turns from a modest, quiet girl to one that stole money from her mother, stole a phone from her male relative and posted a picture of her vagina online in order to look more mature.
However, there was one scene where I almost had to side with all the naysayers.
Because Amy’s transformation seemed so forced, it makes one think that the producers wanted to push a sexual agenda onto children. As I mentioned, Amy stole a phone from her male cousin. But when the cousin snatches it back from her, she begins to undress in order to get it back.
I cannot defend this scene. It was far too much, unnecessary and made no sense. Even if she was binge-watching porn (which we didn’t see her doing; we only saw her watching scantily-clad women twerk), it would be too quick of a persona shift. But thankfully, her cousin pushes her away, further reinforcing that her behavior is totally out of line.
With a rating of TV-MA, this show was not intended for children to watch — at least not without heavy supervision and a lot of conversation.
Nevertheless, the main point of the show would’ve probably gone over a child’s head anyway, which is that as much as Amy and her friends do womanly things, they are clearly not women. Amy specifically is running away from being a woman and the responsibilities of womanhood that her culture dictates.
Throughout the entire movie, we constantly see The Cuties failing to possess the maturity, knowledge or wisdom to be women. They barely even meet the physical requirement as Amy has her first period near the end of the second act/beginning of the third act.
Women may exude a sexual confidence that The Cuties try to mimic as best as possible, but as much as some of their peers might like it, the wider society doesn’t. Being a woman is so much more than knowing how to twerk.
Amy learns that she has to decide what her values are and who she really is as a person. This is what we all face when it comes to maturity.
The movie ends with Amy refusing to attend her father’s wedding to her second wife but going outside to play jump rope with other girls. After her foray into the provocative, she cast it aside for just being a girl; for being who she really is.
The reason I didn’t want to watch this film was because I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to see children depicted in this way, but I had to ask myself another question. Did I want to see people depicted as murderers or people being murdered? Because I’ve watched those films but still easily saw the moral of those stories.
In Requiem for a Dream when Marion ultimately sells her body to a pimp in exchange for heroin, is that something I wanted to see? Or did I understand that this was commentary on the horror of drug abuse and addiction?
That movie has a lot of heavy scenes to digest. Even now I feel so conflicted on my attitude to the film because it is so jarring and deeply upsetting, yet so poignant.
Cuties is not Requiem for a Dream, but it attempts the same type of thing. It is jarring in order to make a point.
So while I can clearly agree that there are some scenes that are too much, I don’t get why people hate it so much; but I definitely don’t get why other people celebrate it as this cinematic masterpiece.
It’s a decent but certainly controversial directorial debut from Maïmouna Doucouré who also wrote the screenplay.
What Cuties is, is a depiction of the world where little girls celebrate and idolize sex symbols twice their age. If you are uncomfortable with that, I’m sorry to inform you that this is actually our world.
But perhaps it is more than that. It is also a catalyst for people to investigate misinformation. Due to the media, the girls had the completely wrong idea of what it meant to be a woman.
And there’s us. I really can’t take the marketing department off the hook because it caused so much of the initial problem. But to believe what people say hook, line and sinker without knowing anything yourself is a disservice to yourself.