On September 9, 2020 Netflix debuted the film Cuties, a coming of age film directed by Maimouna Doucoure, a French-Senagalese woman, based on her own experiences. The plot centers on a French-Senagalese girl who becomes caught in a clash of cultures; a traditional Muslim upbringing, and the mainstream culture powered by the very real and very dominant influence of social media. Doucoure's aim with this film was to hold a critical spotlight on the hypersexualization of pre-adolescent girls. That is a noble intention by any standard. The problem occured in execution and cultural translation.
Cuties true debut was at the Sundance Film festival in January 2020, under it's original title Mignonnes. Mignon is a french term which translates to "cute". Mignonnes was entered in the World Cinema Dramatic section of the film festival, and went on to win the Best Director award for Doucoure. The film was picked up and debuted in France in August. Netflix picked up international rights and released it on it's platform, after changing the title and tweaking the promotional photos to feature the girls dressed, made up, and posed provocatively. That, apparently, was enough to turn social media on it's ear, and crank the cancel culture machine into top gear, prompting the calls to cancel Netflix.
What is it that prompted such a strong response? I wonder. Netflix's provocative promotional photo clearly was a factor, as is Doucoure's choice of camera angles, and shot selection which focuses a few times too many in my opinion, on the crotches and posteriors of the girls. Another factor is the current cultural environment that the movie is attempting to navigate. America's cannibalistic, often hypocritical social environment, currently overshadowed by both the Me Too movement, and the hyperactive, hypersensitive Cancel culture, combined with our schizophrenic sensibilities and selective memory, has resulted in an unbearably volatile concoction.
One can't help but wonder though, about the $5 Billion dollar a year Children's Beauty Pageant industry, that churns along year after year, that America has been turning a blind eye to for 50 years. These pageants place the same type of focus on the physical appearance of young girls, who are dressed and made up through the coordination of teams of adults, which include the girls own parents, to simulate the appearance and behavior of young women. If there is already a call to Cancel Netflix, and director Maimouna Doucoure over this particular film, which has only been on the U.S. Radar since January 2020, why haven't Children's Beauty Pageants been cancelled yet? They've existed since 1964.
The core issue is that America's only true cultural tenet is money. Sure, we like to say that we stand for this, that, and the other thing, when it serves our purpose, appearance, and agendas, but in the end if the money runs deep enough through any issue, then any resistance will break itself against it...including our collective moral fortitude. Jeffrey Epstein, convicted sex offender, and child sex trafficker for the rich and powerful, should have been the high profile catalyst to spark the dismantling of the human trafficking and child sex trafficking industries in the U.S. Instead he became simply another subject of countless memes and jokes, because following his slimy, immoral trail would lead to too many rich and powerful people.
Even if there were a ground swell of tens of thousands of U.S. Netflix subscribers, who cancel their subscriptions, it wouldn't cause a blip on Netflix's financial radar, which has a global reach at this point. That said, factor in the depth of their content library, their position in the home entertainment/streaming industry, and part of our cultural lexicon(Netflix and chill), and it becomes highly suspect that people genuinely feel strongly enough about this one film to inconvenience themselves. Again, we're talking collective moral fortitude, and America is not big on inconveniencing ourselves over moral issues. Institutional racism, sexism, police brutality, income inequality, the wealth gap, among others stand as witnesses to that truth.
Netflix has tweeted an apology for their "inappropriate" promotional photo, which will allow the citizens of cancel culture to save face. Doucoure has explained her intention in making the film and chalked up America's public perception of the work as cultural misinterpretation. And one month from now, all will be forgotten and American society will be focused on the next shiny new controversy that offers distraction from the real problems.
The low hanging fruit of shiny new controversies, of course.