the harrison review
thinking inside the box
September 17, 2020
The film Cuties was directed by the black, female, French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, whose express goal in the project was to raise awareness about the hyper-sexualization of young girls. Upon the film's release to Netflix, however, a massive #CancelNetflix campaign ensued, objecting to the film's hyper-sexualization of young girls. In response to the uproar, Doucouré insisted that both parties were "on the same side of this fight." "We...see oppression of women in other cultures. But my question is, 'Isn't the objectification of a woman's body that we often see in our Western culture not another kind of oppression?'"
The #CancelNetflix army marched on. It was all very confusing.
~~~art imitating life~~~
The confusion begins to clear, though, when one learns that Doucouré's chosen strategy in her fight against the sexual exploitation of women, was to promptly round up a handful of pre-pubescent female actors and to film a movie in which they perform highly erotic dance routines, a film to be distributed worldwide to an audience of millions. One can't help but wonder if such a film might be at cross-purposes with her stated goal.
In all seriousness, though, this isn't really as crazy of an idea as it sounds. It is commonplace, even common-sensical, that one way to communicate the real horror of a certain evil is to put the thing right in front of people's faces. Documentaries especially stand out as a powerful art form for increasing social awareness. But Cuties isn't a documentary. It’s a movie, and movies are different. Jack and Rose can go down on the Titanic without having to sink a ship. Christian Bale can play a serial killer without murdering anybody. But a young actress can't portray the sexual exploitation of her character without *herself* actually being sexually exploited. Or if there is some way to accomplish this, Cuties didn't discover it. Doucouré explains that she "created a climate of trust between the children and myself" and "explained to them everything I was doing and the research that I had done before I wrote this story." She even employed a child psychologist for the young actresses. She might have opened with the disclaimer: "No young girls were harmed in the making of this film." But all these efforts were necessarily doomed to fail.
For all I know, 95% of the movie may be spot on in its messaging, but you just can't have that remaining 5%. I have no reason to disbelieve Ms. Doucouré 's stated reason for making the movie; I just think she made a grave miscalculation in her chosen approach. She should have made a documentary. After all, there's plenty of real-life garbage out there to choose from, no need to add to the pile. ■