Cuties (Mignonnes)

Amy is an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in a Parisian apartment with a conservative mother, a strict auntie, and several siblings who await their father’s return with a second wife in tow. Her life is so different compared to the other girls at school, so seemingly easy with their bodies, dancing freely, hardly a care in the world. In Amy’s home, money is scarce, modesty is valued, and things are complicated.

Like pretty much every kid ever, Amy just wants to fit in. “The cuties” are a dance troupe at school that she’d very much like to belong to. They’re the cool kids of course, with maybe just a smidge of mean girls. They’re irresistible. Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is so desperate to belong she does whatever it takes: her baby brother’s tshirt is a crop top on her. A stolen cell phone becomes her portal to a world of gyrating, scantily clad girls, simulating sex and calling it dancing. She learns from them, in secret. And when the cuties have a sudden opening, she’s more than ready to step in.

You may have heard that Netflix has caught some major heat over this film, mostly from people who hadn’t seen it. They’ve called for Netflix to remove the title from its streaming platform, and threatened mass unsubscribing if they don’t. Their complaint: the movie hyper-sexualizes young girls. Is it valid?

Sure it is. But this is exactly the point film maker Maïmouna Doucouré is trying to make. Her film is a social commentary about the pressure young girls face not just from social media, but absolutely from social media, which they are exposed to from very young ages. And we are all in some way contributing to a culture that only finds value in females that can be sexualized, treating all others as if they’re invisible. If a girl wants to be seen, and has access to a tablet or a smartphone or peers, she won’t have failed to notice what her (lack of) options are.

Is it fair or necessary to sexualize these young actresses in order to prove a point? To be honest, I sort of hate putting kids in show business altogether. No matter how carefully a director isolates mature themes from the children on set, kids are notorious sponges and almost always absorb more than we think. Child actor turned director Sarah Polley was in the news this week reflecting on having to kiss a man twice her age on the set of a TV show when she was 13. A show Canada prided itself on for its wholesome family viewing. It’s a valid concern, even if it doesn’t have an easy answer.

If her film has inspired conversation, then Maïmouna Doucouré has done her job. You can’t move the needle if you don’t ask the hard questions. So I don’t think that muzzling Netflix or forcing censorship on an emerging female director flexing her voice for the first time is the answer. I know that Doucouré hasn’t included these scenes to entertain us; they are there to provoke discomfort. So let that be the starting point for the discussion that needs to be had. Let’s talk about why this makes us uncomfortable, and what we can do so this isn’t Amy’s story anymore. So the next time someone writes a movie about a girl like Amy, it won’t be about how the only currency she has is her body.

25 thoughts on “Cuties (Mignonnes)

  1. mydangblog

    A really intelligent review, although I’m not clear on whether the film is an overt social commentary, or whether we just assume that it is. But the real issue, unfortunately, is because it’s on a platform like Netflix, it won’t attract an audience concerned with social commentary as much as it will an audience who wants to see young girls acting sexy. And that’s the real shame.

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    1. Jay Post author

      It’s definitely social commentary. It is not a documentary so of course it does not state its themes outright, but it’s very clear from the repulsed faces in the audiences, and in the reckoning of the little girl herself, that the film maker wants us to see that this is wrong from both sides.
      It will inevitably attract the wrong audience but it’s meant to attract one that can effect change. Parents, mostly, I suspect. Because pedophiles don’t need a Netflix account when they can watch little girls do the same and worse on Tiktok every day, and for free, and where their public profiles leave them vulnerable to being contacted, solicited, and exploited.
      I think this movie is a reminder to parents of what happens when you allow your children unsupervised access to the internet and should – let’s think deeply and critically about how young is too young to have a phone, and how to raise children, girls especially, to be smart and safe in the digital age.
      But most of all I think it shames us for having this kind of culture in the first place. Because dance competitions that reward this kind of behaviour exist in the real world (and have been the subject of reality TV for a couple of decades), as do beauty pageants (ditto). And those aren’t governed by pedophiles, but by ‘responsible adults’ and parents. Plus, young girls are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and bullying online by their own peers.
      It’s much easier to blame Netflix than to raise better sons and tell daughters about the realities of being a girl.

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  2. Brittani

    I started watching this but haven’t finished it yet. The uproar reminds me a lot of Obvious Child and Hounddog. People freaking out without having seen it. I’m interested to finish it and actually be able to give a well formed opinion.

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  3. tubularsock

    Great review Jay. Tubularsock is always amazed that as a society we’ll wipe out a village with a drone and not a peep but a film that you can at any time TURN IT OFF must be censured because it may actually say something.

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    1. tubularsock

      Interesting. Tubularsock would just say that if Congress in both parties would STOP watching Netflix and taking vacations they might just do something to help the citizens!

      On second thought ……. maybe Netflix IS the better solution.

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      1. Jay Post author

        Absolutely true. It had 9K downvotes on IMDB before it even aired on Netflix.
        That’s certainly not the only film it’s happened to.
        People downvoted the female reboot of Ghostbusters before it came out just to be misogynistic jerks.

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  4. Invisibly Me

    I’ve seen this in the news recently and it’s almost a case of all press is good press when it causes a stir and makes people curious. I kind of have to agree with you in not necessarily liking kids in show business full stop when you hear what it can do to people. As for Sarah Polley, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the director on that getting her to kiss anyone age 13, let alone a much older man. There’s something very creepy about that and yet it didn’t garner all that much attention. These days there’s far more awareness and criticism, which is mostly good because it opens dialogue. It’s interesting to hear your take on this as I’ve not seen it myself yet. xx

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  5. ninvoid99

    I heard great things about this film yet I’m baffled by those who want to cancel Netflix because of this film. They have no problem with a film they don’t know much about yet have no problem with awful movies that do much worse to women and children?

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  6. StephLove

    It’s certainly something I worry about a lot, the sexualization of preteen and early teen girls. I thought we might have sidestepped it when North stopped identifying as a girl at 11, but they’re still more girlish than boyish in their style and socialization.

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  7. Benjamin Woolridge

    I really appreciate your review of ‘Cuties’ because I’m sick and tired of all the hot takes dismissing this movie as kiddie porn. Is it a difficult film to watch? Absolutely and that’s the point. No one watching this movie should feel comfortable. We should be disgusted. We should be outraged that the world that Amy and the other girls are forced to navigate was not invented by the director, Maïmouna Doucouré, but by us adults.

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  8. Edmundo Barraza

    Great posts and reviews, and comments, and articles, Jay. First, I thought you were a man, but. wow, you’re a woman, that’s even much better! You could easily be a critic on any magazine or major newspaper. A female Roger Ebert. Keep ’em coming. And then, I learned you read a couple of my posts, and liked them. I’m thrilled!

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