Arts and Entertainment

“Cuties”: Netflix’s Newest Disaster

“Cuties,” a movie that encourages the sexualization of children, should be removed from Netflix.

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By Aishwarjya Barua

When you think of the worst thing that Netflix has ever put on its platform, what comes to mind? Is it “Riverdale?” “13 Reasons Why?” Or maybe even one of their Netflix Originals? Though the majority of its content is relatively uncontroversial, Netflix manages to get itself in hot water from time to time with the release of certain movies and TV shows on its site. However, all past controversies seem minuscule in comparison to Netflix’s latest disaster: “Cuties.”

In mid-August, Netflix put the description and poster for the movie “Cuties” on its platform, which was set to release in September. The French film had been shown at the film festival Sundance earlier this year and had actually received heavy praise in France. The initial movie poster showed four 11-year-old girls posing seductively in revealing outfits, with the description: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.” This poster was faced with immediate backlash across the Internet as the hashtag #CANCELCUTIES became increasingly popular. People were outraged by the fact that the poster clearly sexualized underage girls and demanded that Netflix remove the film from its site. In response to the backlash, Netflix updated the movie’s description and poster but still released the movie on September 1.

Now, you’re probably wondering: what is the movie actually about, and is it as bad as the initial description made it out to be? Though the drama is slightly exaggerated, the movie is still questionable. It starts by introducing 11-year-old Amy, who lives in a very conservative, religious family. At school, she meets a group of girls called the Cuties, who constantly misbehave and represent everything her family is against: they wear revealing clothes, listen to inappropriate music, and in general, act much older than their age. Amy becomes fascinated with them, despite the fact that the girls constantly bully and tease her. Eventually, they let her into their group, and she joins them in dance contests. However, at the end of the movie, Amy realizes that she doesn’t want to live the mature lifestyle they lead and decides to embrace her childhood.

While the premise of the movie sounds innocent, the main issues revolve around the sexualization of Amy and the Cuties. The Cuties are fascinated by inappropriate dancing since they mimic what they see online, so they participate in a twerking dance competition. There are multiple scenes in the movie where the girls are twerking, humping the floor, and touching themselves inappropriately, all while wearing extremely revealing clothing. There’s even a scene in which Amy is dancing and shaking her butt in her underwear. I found myself extremely uncomfortable while watching the movie and thought many of the scenes were quite excessive—it’s the kind of movie that pedophiles would likely enjoy.

Though it may seem obvious that the movie is exploitative and should be taken down, many say that it spreads a positive and empowering message. The movie is ultimately a criticism of such behavior, as Amy eventually realizes her behavior isn’t appropriate for someone her age. Viewers are meant to take away the concept that young girls shouldn’t feel the need to sexualize themselves, even if they see other women doing so on social media. Even so, this message doesn’t make showing these scenes okay. There are ways to express the same ideas without filming underage children dancing seductively. The movie wound up centering around the very thing it was meant to criticize—the sexualization of underage girls.

To make matters worse, the movie's conclusion is quite weak. There are no consequences to the girls’ actions, and there isn’t any impetus that makes Amy realize her behavior isn’t okay—she just happens to change her mind in the middle of a dance contest. You can’t make the argument that the movie is justified because it takes a stand against inappropriate behavior when it really only does so very weakly in its final few minutes.

However ineffective it has been in communicating its intended message, the movie does highlight a very real issue in our society: children are constantly sexualized. Beauty pageants and dance competitions that require children to wear inappropriate costumes have long served as examples of how children are encouraged to sexualize themselves at a young age. With the rise of social media, this issue has only gotten worse. Children mimic what they see online, and when most of what they’re seeing is adults posing seductively on social media, they copy that. Children are taught that beauty is the most important feature someone can have, and so they think that the only way they can get ahead in life is to sexualize themselves, just like what happened with Amy and the Cuties. If we really want to stop child sexualization, we have to limit it in media—and that includes movies like “Cuties.”