It’s true that the Blog Collab doesn’t shy away from controversy–and this week’s film is at the center of one of the internet’s most intense debates right now. In response to Cuties, people have called for a boycott of Netflix and even leveled death threats at the film’s director. Netflix certainly handled the marketing of this film incredibly badly…but what about the movie’s content itself? Let’s unpack it, shall we?
As she becomes part of a competitive dance team, preteen Amy’s religious upbringing increasingly clashes with the provocative moves and attitudes of her new friends.
Having just moved to a new apartment in Paris, 11-year-old Amy and her younger brother are eager to stake a claim on their own rooms. However, these plans are thwarted when their mother makes it clear that one of the rooms is strictly off-limits. What could that possibly be about?
Part of a Senegalese immigrant family, Amy dresses modestly and attends a weekly religious service at a local mosque. The services are quiet and emphasize women remaining obedient servants of God and, ultimately, their husbands.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Cuties, a group of girls who dress in revealing clothing, rebel against teachers, and practice extremely suggestive dance routines. To lonely Amy, the Cuties have carved out their own freedom, and befriending one of the girls who lives in her building opens up a wholly different way of existing in the world.
Practicing dance routines in secret, wearing her little brother’s t-shirts as crop tops, and posting selfies from a stolen phone, Amy begins trying on an identity far removed from that of well-behaved, obedient immigrant daughter. When she learns of her father’s plans to bring a second wife with him from Senegal and witnesses her mother’s devastated response, Amy is increasingly eager to embrace her new persona.
After girl group leader Angelica has a falling out with one of the girls, Amy sees her opportunity to become a permanent part of the Cuties. Absorbing sexually explicit music videos in secret, Amy takes the girls’ choreography and pushes it to an even greater extreme with dance moves that are pretty damn disturbing. Of course, the girls are keen to adopt changes to their routine to make them stand out in an upcoming competition.
As Amy attempts to balance her commitment to the dance team with the demands of preparing for her father’s wedding, responsibilities begin to fall through the cracks. Enraging both her overbearing aunt and the Cuties team, Amy skips out on helping her aunt only to miss the girls’ competition tryout. Can Amy ever do enough to earn her spot back on the dance crew…and is that really what she wants?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Ignore the boycotts and general outrage about this film–those are largely down to Netflix’s own marketing and promotion. The film itself and the director, Maïmouna Doucouré, don’t deserve to be the targets of anger (and even death threats) when it comments on the hypersexualization of children rather than glorifying it. It does feel worth examining that this story–told by a Black woman and immigrant–is the subject of so much vitriol when exploitative shows like Dance Moms have aired for years with no one batting an eye.
I will say this film isn’t free of its own problems. There are scenes that don’t seem necessary, especially as there are many, many shots of the girls performing extremely sexual dance moves. A lot of these scenes don’t successfully balance commentary with the feeling of exploitation, and it’s pretty disturbing to watch them. I think Doucouré could have found a creative approach to commenting on the sexualization of young girls in a way that didn’t involve so many problematic scenes.
However, it’s a shame (if not a surprise) that internet outrage has overshadowed the film’s nuanced approaches to girlhood, immigrant experiences, and identity.