Why ‘Cuties’ Isn’t Just Netflix’s Problem


The sexual exploitation of children is a symptom of a larger disease—one that we’re complicit in.

On September 9, independent French film Les Mignonnes made its American debut on Netflix under the title Cuties. While director Maïmouna Doucouré intends the film as a critique of the sexual exploitation of children, she quickly found her work facing condemnation for participating in that very thing. Within days, #CancelNetflix was trending and the film had received an astounding 1.06/10 audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as of publishing date).

Part of the public outcry targeted Netflix’s problematic marketing of Cuties earlier in August. If design is communication, the chosen images, description, and subtext did not critique a culture that sexually exploits young girls. It actively played into it, issuing an invitation to come gaze on the actors as they engage in “free-spirited” dance.

The film itself also faces difficult questions about the ethics of using child actors to portray the process of sexualization. Abuse survivor and advocate Rachael Denhollander tweeted: “One can’t protest sexualizing children by … sexualizing them.” And Vox movie critic and former Christianity Today columnist Alissa Wilkinson pointed out that “trying to depict something in the context of critiquing it isn’t always successful.”

The ambiguous nature of sexual exploitation within Western culture explains both the controversy surrounding Cuties and the thesis of the film itself. While public condemnation has been sure and swift, it sometimes misses the pressing questions about whether our society is safe for children: What if the sexualization of young girls is not a bug but a feature? What if Netflix knows something about us that we don’t about ourselves?

The central …

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