The Netflix movie Cuties has been embroiled in controversy since its poster was released by Netflix, showing its lead characters dressed in revealing clothing while posing provocatively on stage.
Cuties was directed by French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, who has previously released two short films called Hide-and-seek and Maman(s). Cuties (released as Mignonnes in France), which is Doucouré’s debut feature film, revolves around an eleven-year-old girl called Amy. From an immigrant family with traditional religious values, Amy becomes involved with a dance group of her peers. The film depicts its lead characters, pre-pubescent and adolescent girls, wearing revealing clothing and performing sexualized dances.
The film’s release prompted a renewal of the criticism that initially surrounded the film’s poster. Movements circulated the internet encouraging people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions, with some analytics suggesting that Netflix’s cancellation rate in the aftermath of the film’s release rose to nearly eight times higher than its average daily levels.
The film also sparked criticism by members of the American government; U.S. Senator Josh Hawley wrote to Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings, saying, “Netflix is airing a film called Cuties depicting children being coached to engage in simulated sexual acts, for cameras both onscreen and off. Your decision to do so raises major questions of child safety and exploitation, including the possibility of copycat behavior and exploitation of child actors.”
Senator Ted Cruz has also spoken against the film, tweeting in September, “@netflix’s ‘Cuties’ sexualizes 11-year-old girls, and it’s disgusting and wrong. That’s why I’ve asked AG Barr to investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”
Despite the harsh negative reaction it has faced from much of the public, Cuties was well-received by critics. Roger-Ebert reviewer Monica Castillo called Cuties “difficult and challenging,” arguing towards the review’s end that “the movie is so much more nuanced and bold than the first wave of outrage charged… After all, these are issues facing many young girls growing up today in various corners of the world. You’d just never know it because their coming-of-age horror stories aren’t always told in film.” In addition, Netflix defended Cuties as a critique against sexualizing children.
However, a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas has indicted Netflix over Cuties for the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.”
Texas House Rep Matt Schaefer soon after tweeted, “Netflix, Inc. indicted by grand jury in Tyler Co., Tx for promoting material in Cuties film which depicts lewd exhibition of pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age which appeals to the prurient interest in sex.”
In an article by Rolling Stone on the issue, former federal prosecutor Duncan Levin is quoted as saying that he believes the case is “very close to frivolous,” as it would have to be proven that Cuties lacks artistic value, which could be difficult as the film has been nominated for and won film festival awards.
While the merit of the lawsuit itself may have faced some debate, Cuties remains the subject of public debate.
Netflix has responded to the news of the lawsuit by saying, “’Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”