There is no doubt that Cuties (Mignonnes) is uncomfortable viewing.
As I watched it yesterday, I felt as if I had intruded on the private lives of the young girls who star in it; that I, as an adult, had no right to view their extremely personal battle with adolescence and societal pressure.
In the film, which follows an 11-year-old girl as she joins a dance troupe, there is plenty to make you look away in discomfort.
There are lingering gazes on these pre-teens, dancing in sexualised ways. The audience is routinely made to feel disgusted by the content the girls are consuming and sex fills the room like an awkward shadow.
But that’s the point of the film – and it is why I think people demanding #cancelNetflix should think again.
Sexuality is everywhere; it exists on TV, in ads, in politics and so on. And as a young person, it’s hard to escape it when your life revolves around online content – most of which is hard to monitor and even harder for unaware or oblivious parents to enforce rules on.
If you think I’m wrong, just look at TikTok, where it wouldn’t be hard to find similar dances to the one being performed in that now-viral clip of the film.
There’s shows like Riverdale, Elite, Euphoria and Sabrina, which, while not casting teens in these roles, ooze sex and normalise seeing young protagonists in lingerie and compromising positions.
Hypersexuality attached towards minors fills our day to day lives to the point where we no longer blink twice at it.
But a film attempting to dissuade audiences from engaging in such behaviour shouldn’t need to also emulate said behaviour to critique it; enough of that material already exists in our world.
The lack of restraint with the editing and camerawork makes the film a prime vehicle for lewd and disgusting content. An example of this can be seen in the final sequence at a dance competition, where the audience is forced to view the girls in the same way society does.
It focuses on their bodies in the same way you expect a pervert on the street to look their prey up and down.
There is no allusion to what occurs in the scene: instead it’s blatant and it is hard to watch.
The thing is, we can’t simply just ‘cancel’ this film and think that the problem is sorted. Taking Cuties down from one of the biggest streaming platforms is not going to end the continuous hypersexualisation of young children.
Even if it does get removed, there will be plenty of others that reinforce the same negative messaging in less graphic ways.
I believe that you can and should critique art as there’s no way it progresses without an honest discussion about its impact – but the intent does matter.
Cuties is the debut film of a woman who wanted to explore what it feels like to be torn between two extremes, between two cultures, and between two phases of her life.
I can’t justify the content but I understand why the story exists because, for many of us who went through adolescence in a social media filled era, being bombarded with sexual images happened.
The creeps attempting to groom young girls happened. The music videos that the film’s young girls emulated exist.
To pretend as if they don’t reads to me as if you want your outrage cake, but refuse to acknowledge the underlying issue at hand.
The question is, can we both unpack what it means to be a young girl in the 21st century and discourage the imagery seen in Cuties?
If you try to just cancel the whole thing, you block out the chance to understand why content like this harms young people in the first place.
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