Miles Richardson- Staff Writer
After receiving a hefty amount of blow-back from American audiences due to the salacious poster used to market the film Cuties, Netflix was accused of endorsing pedophilia. Some felt this was unfair to the film. According to Film Studies Professor James Balls, “Netflix’s poster to market the film undermined the films themes.” Now, as a black Muslim man, I found this film to be incredibly troubling. However, I do not agree that the purpose of this film was to encourage pedophilia.
Cuties is a propaganda film made with an agenda that is based around the demonization of authority.
Despite the controversy around Cuties, many people championed this film, declaring it as “feminist”. So, allow us to examine that claim. According to Britannica, “Third wave feminism redefined women and girls as assertive, powerful, and in control of their own sexuality.” Well, this statement certainly serves as the driving ideology of the movie, but let’s examine how this was applied to the film’s main character.
In the opening sequence of the film, we are introduced to Amy, an eleven year old girl with an unhappy mother who forces her to attend regular worship services. We see Amy amongst a gathering of covered women, looking around sadly as her worship leader declares, “Where does evil dwell? In the bodies of uncovered women. Therefore we must strive to preserve our decency and we must obey our husbands.” This dialogue has been crafted to communicate to us the idea that Amy’s religion is oppressive. In the very next scene, we are introduced to the girl who will later “free” Amy from these oppressive conditions: Angelica. When Amy discovers that Angelica is in a member of a “free-spirited twerking dance crew”, she decides she wants in. Surprisingly, Doucoure does not frame these girls as heroes. For they are verbally abusive to her throughout the film and only praise her when she begins gaining them attention on social media with her sexually suggestive moves. In reality, Doucoure cleverly made sure to display the negatives of both authority and sexual freedom, while airing on the side of sexual freedom.
As Amy’s new dance career takes off, the Cuties face adversity from school officials as well as Amy’s mother. In an early scene, the Cuties, dressed in tight mini-skirts and dresses, stage a demonstration in the school courtyard, the principal drags Angelica, the group’s leader, away, berating her about her choice of dress. During this scene, the Cuties verbally object, shouting, “What about freedom of expression?” This scenario is depicted on screen as if to say, “How dare these officials enforce such strict rules upon these children? They should be applauding them for boldly expressing their sexualities.” Seeing these themes causes me to think, should there be no law and order in matters of sexual expression? Should we allow our children to dress and behave however they see fit? Is twerking a form of female empowerment? Maybe public nudity should be made legal. After all, isn’t it oppressive for the government to force women to cover their bodies? I realize that defying societal norms has been a common theme in recent years, however, maybe that’s not such a good thing in this instance.
This is something Amy ultimately comes to understand, when during a climactic scene, Amy breaks down crying while at a dance competition and runs off stage, realizing this is no longer who she wants to be.
So, was Amy liberated by this exploration? According to junior Journalism major Kayla Tinsley, “Those young girls were overly sexualized.” In the opening of this film we are asked to believe Amy’s religion is oppressive. I think it’s safe to say the model of “freedom” she was influenced to chase is far more oppressive.
In the end, we see Amy dressed in long sleeves and a pair of jeans like any other Western girl, jumping rope in the street, smiling. No longer bound by the confines of religion, nor by societies overly-sexual nature. She is finally free. By ending this film on a positive note, Director Doucoure is making a clear statement: when authority is lost, self-discovery is found.