"I decided to make this film and sound an alarm and say we need to protect our children," director Maïmouna Doucouré said

By Georgia Slater
September 15, 2020 10:45 AM
Cuties (2020)

Maïmouna Doucouré, director of the controversial new Netflix movie Cuties, is defending her film after it was slammed by critics who believed it was hyper-sexualizing children.

During a Toronto Film Festival panel on French filmmakers Monday, the director argued that her indie film was instead trying to raise awareness about how young girls are treated, calling it a "real issue," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"It's because I saw so many things and so many issues around me lived by young girls, that I decided to make this film and sound an alarm and say, 'We need to protect our children,'" Doucouré explained, adding, "It's bold, it's feminist, but it's so important and necessary to create debate and try to find solutions, for me as an artist, for politicians and parents."

"It's a real issue," Doucouré said of the film.

Cuties follows Amy (Fathia Youssouf), an 11-year-old girl from Senegal who joins a dance team dubbed "the cuties" at her school and slowly becomes more aware of her blossoming femininity, which causes tension in her traditional family.

Earlier this week, Netflix stood by the movie in a statement to THR, calling the film "a social commentary against the sexualization of young children."

"It's an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up - and we'd encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie," the streaming service said.

Netflix began advertising the movie ahead of its release on Sept. 9 and received backlash over its marketing poster for the film, with critics claiming that it sexualized children.

Cuties on Netflix

The controversial poster for the film featured the four young girls dressed in tight, revealing group outfits while striking rather suggestive dance poses.

Last month, Netflix issued a public apology for its marketing oversight and updated the film's pictures and description.

"We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance," Netflix shared on Twitter.

While the coming-of-age film has been criticized, it's been praised by many — including film critics – for its handling of sensitive topics. It was also well received at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award.

Film critic Monica Castillo gave the film four stars in her Rogertebert.com review, and applauded Doucouré for using the storyline to openly criticize the societal pressures young girls face to be overtly sexual.

"The movie is so much more nuanced and bold than the first wave of outrage charged," Castillo wrote. "With Cuties, Doucouré announces herself as a director with a keen visual style who’s unafraid to explore these cultural and social tensions."

Cuties is now streaming on Netflix.