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Movie Review: "Cuties" by Maïmouna Doucouré

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I have been hearing about this film for a few days, and everybody is so scandalized by it, that it became a matter of honor for me to watch it and see for myself.

The adjectives were eloquent enough: Disturbing, disgusting, sick, and others that I cannot remember.

Last night I finally watched it.

Right now I am posting articles only on Mondays, but here comes an extra one in the middle of the week to exorcise my feelings on this film and the reactions it has had.

First of all, allow me to make a summary of the plot.

Amy is an eleven-year-old girl, whose family migrated from Senegal to France. She, her mother, and her two younger siblings are waiting for their father to join them in their new neighborhood in Paris.

She is disconcerted by her mother's strange behavior since their arrival until she hears a conversation that clears it all up: Her father is about to take a second wife, a woman he will bring with him from Senegal.

Amy has to witness her mother's suffering, and face what her future is going to be like in her traditional Muslim family.

But she will find a momentary escape: Her neighbor's dancing group.

Being in contact with girls that are immersed in a cultural reality very different from her own, will throw Amy into a world of social media, exposition, and sex, that she will navigate in a desperate search for a place to belong.

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Why should you be watching it?

The truth is, there is only one thing that I found disturbing about this movie: That it did not disturb me at all.

I will explain my reasons for it.

I am in my early twenties, so my teenage years are not that far away yet. It is true that when I was eleven or twelve years old, my reality was different from the one of the characters in the movie. Childhood lasted longer, and we did not have the same access to the internet as kids have now. The only social network that was widely used (at least among people of my age) was Facebook, where parents have access to everything we were doing; this also because we needed to use the home's computers to have connectivity. I did not have a cellphone with internet, with which I could have some privacy in my search history until I was fourteen.

I tell you all this because I want to make a comparison.

When my younger sister, who is four years my junior, reached that age, things had changed noticeably. Social networks were starting to be a thing, and the world had gotten more complicated. I can recall some of my sister's school classmates and girls she knew from her dance classes and those faces were the ones I saw while watching the movie: Girls that were eleven or twelve, and that behave and dressed in a suggestive manner. Girls who started going to parties, drinking, posting photographs in every social media available, and interacting with unknown users completely unsupervised.

Was it ever questioned, or thought as incorrect? No.

Kids like those were "the cool kids". No one, child or adult ever give it a second thought. It was normal.

The situations the protagonists of Cuties are exposed to are the same that several children nowadays.

Once, a girl in my class sent someone a picture of her posing suggestively in her underwear. We were a little older then, maybe fourteen. The one that received the photo sent it to someone else, and a group of girls in the class thought it would be funny to edit it, making it seem like it was a promotional pic offering more photos, and send it to everyone. That photo labeled that girl as a "whore". Is it not similar to Amy's experience?

There is also another thing that must be considered, and it is the kind of music that kids and teens are consuming.

I am from Latin America, so I can give a fair insight into what is going on here in musical matters. The only styles which are being massively listened to are reggaeton and trap.

The artists that are the fashion are well-known for lyrics with distinctive sexual content. I do not mean "erotic", I mean sexually explicit. Most of those songs depict sexual acts in detail, most of the time using a very vulgar language. The music videos of these songs show women barely clothed, that make a show with their bodies.

All that material is available online for anyone who wants to see it.

Kids are initiated at a young age in this culture that focuses on sex. They think that sex is what the world is centered on. That their bodies and sexual behavior are the way to get what they want. And it is not only wrong but dangerous.

I do not believe that the film was perfect, or managed to convey everything it was supposed to.

Some of the dancing scenes were not good. Especially the one at the ending, that was unnecessarily long, and that seemed to be focusing on the young actresses' bodies. I understand that the director wanted to emphasize the importance that culture gives to body image, and what the people in the audience would be looking at. Let's remember that in one scene, Amy is mocked by the other girls for not having a "curvy" body. But the idea was not well developed in that particular scene, and it tainted the message it was trying to leave us a little bit. It was an mistake, for the movie would not have received half of the critics it has if those scenes were managed in another way. Many people have pointed this out and I agree.

I also found that the ending was precipitated and unclear. We understand that Amy realized that she was behaving poorly, and longed to be home again. At the very last scene, we see her jumping the rope with other girls, a symbolic "back to childhood" for the character. But the reason she runs away from the dancing competition was not clear: Was it the reaction of the public or the memories of her family? We will never know.

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The other fault of the story is that it shows us the lives of the girls in sexually centered culture, the situations they are exposed to, but it does not highlight the danger of it. Amy gets in trouble with her family, she suffers bullying at school, but we never get to catch a glimpse of the other dangers that this kind of exposition she submitted herself to can have. Social media (and the streets) are crowded with adults who can take advantage of these kids, that trying to be "cool", can be tricked into doing things they might regret. They can be physically and mentally harm beyond repair.

But what is scary, is that the culture demands these behaviors and tendencies from us, and excludes us if we are not willing to play the part. Or even forces us to.

For example, last week my sister received a comment on her Instagram telling her that she looked "so sexy" by a man older her. She sings, and the only thing she posts are videos of her singing, nothing remotely suggestive. Still, she received that kind of message. And other girls I know have received worse ones or even unwanted pictures from strangers.

I have been told myself, not only by my peers but by my eldests, that I am boring because I am not fond of revealing clothes and I do not use any social media. I have been called a "grandma". Being older, I am not prone to paying attention or feel insecure by those comments.

But what about a teen, or a child? How can we expect them to have the strength and the knowledge to say no? How, when we expose them to a world that glorifies sexual precociousness at the time they are forming their identity? How, when it is a matter of belonging or not?

If a movie that shows young girls in inappropriate behavior is disgusting and should be forbidden: Why is it then, that when those behaviors happen in front of our eyes we do not say anything?

Showing the double-faced morality of the audience is for me the real achievement of Cuties.

People are being ridiculous enough to say that the director should never work again, that Netflix should be canceled...

Would that eliminate the problem?

I believe that is necessary for us as a society to question what the media tries to sell us and to point out the mistakes. But here I do not see a society worried about the portrayal of a sensitive issue; I see a society being hypocritical and blind to a huge problem that we are all fuelling.

This is not the first time. Let's name a few examples in recent years.

When Thirteen Reasons Why was released, people said that it was promoting teen suicide.

Last year, when Joker was released, it was said that it promoted and glorified violence.

Violence exists around us. Bullying, suicide, are happening every day.

Why are we so interested in not seeing those things portrayed in media, if it is everywhere else?

Art is not only supposed to entertain but to study the reality of the world we live in. That means showing the good, but also the bad, the uncomfortable, the disturbing. It is supposed to go as close to the truth as possible.

For people who are saying that Cuties is child pornography and that it is material "made for pedophiles", I ask: Why would pedophiles pay for a Netflix subscription to see kids in inappropriate situations and poses, when they can get an Instagram account for free? Or any other social network by that means?

Netflix did deserve the criticisms, because of the awful promotion they made of the story. It was unprofessional and it did not express what the movie is.

And for the ones who condemn the young actresses' parents for letting them appear in such a movie: What would you say to the parents that allow their kids to dress, behave and adopt conducts of adults? What would you say to the parents that allow unlimited access to the internet and social media without supervision? Or to the ones who allow music with lyrics that border pornography? Why are we not criticizing them as well?

We are wasting time trying to boycott a film when we should be doing something of much more relevance: Trying to change the situation.

We should be asking ourselves: What can we do for this to stop happening? How can we educate our children for them to see past this sexually-focused culture? How can we protect them from the danger of it?

I also wish to highlight the fact that the movie shows an interesting contrast. The protagonist has grown up in a home when they teach her that women are supposed to be wives and mothers, while outside she sees a world where women have a wider range of options. But those liberties come hand in hand with the exigencies I have already mentioned. Deciding which side of the net is the best, or the healthier is an impossible task.

Cuties is as good as it is faulty. The kids are good actresses, especially the protagonist, who conveys the emotional side of the character impeccably. The script is good too, despite some inconsistencies that interrupt the flow of the story.

I liked it. And I recommend it.

Before condemning it, I beg you: Watch it.

Then you can draw your conclusions.

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