Cuties

Seduced by the protests of social conservatives, prudes, indignant parents and moral campaigners ejaculating their disgust across the media, I finally found time to curl up on the sofa with a pack of KP salt ‘n vinegar nuts to watch the movie, Cuties (Mignonnes).

I should begin by saying that I lost all respect for well-organised protests proclaiming the moral high ground after the Catholic Church turned out to be a vile, misogynistic organisation running the world’s largest paedophile ring and keeping girls as laundry slaves. So, you’ve been warned!

Amongst the legions of viewers needing smelling salts – and more than a few that hadn’t even seen it – were rather a lot of men concealing the shame of having seen the dirty side of a small group of dancing, 11-year-old girls in costumes too high on the leg and too short on the breast. Perhaps they thought that if they shouted loudly enough; nobody would notice their erection.

Dance is sexual. Often reflected in costumes drawing attention to the lithe and exercised bodies dancing in them. Hot pants or short skirts, the grandmother in the movie was bound to call her granddaughter a ‘whore’. But is it, after all, the fault of the young female dancer learning how attractive they can make their body? Why not the fault of the man (or boy) pressed down on the nylon cord mentally masturbating as he looks up at the tele? What has happened that children putting on their mum’s lipstick or clacking around the parquet in her high heels can no longer be dismissed as an ‘innocent’ rite of passage?

Controlling what young girls wear won’t stop men and boys’ sexual motivations. I don’t want to have to Google hijab or burkha porn to post pictures here to demonstrate the extent a costume designed to thwart men’s ‘uncontrolled’ sexuality is fetishised by men. Or Mormon porn to demonstrate the extent white pants is exciting so many Mormon men. Or look at the role of corsets, restraints, knickerbockers, or school uniforms on erotic websites in teasing and exciting. Controlling what women and girls wear is blaming them for dressing provocatively to excite men. Is it not better that men and boys are taught instead to control their sexual urges?

But I digress…

Without necessarily agreeing with the premise of the film, Cuties is a beautifully transient coming-of-age film by the French female director Maïmouna Doucouré that follows Amy, (Fathia Youssouf), a girl from Senegal wrestling with the conservative Muslim culture of her family as she tries to win acceptance amongst her young, more westernised and secular friends. An opportunity for Amy to integrate and make friends soon presents itself in a dance competition. After stumbling on the choreography of some sexual dancers performing on YouTube, an inspired Amy decides to copy their twerking and introduce some of their moves into her new dance troupe, Cuties.

Doucouré paints an informed picture of how a progressive culture stimulates, excites, and challenges an 11-year-old girl from a socially conservative and culturally different background through Amy’s eyes. Doucouré was, after all, Amy. One scene that struck me was after Amy had watched adult women seductively move their backsides in their erotic dance routine. The film then shows Amy watching the backsides of female members of her family climbing the stairs preparing for the polygamous wedding of her father, in tight-fitting, bright coloured western dresses. Watch Amy processing this is cinematic genius.  

The film is an honest, illustrative portrayal of young girls finding their way in a world that has become as honest about sexuality as its likely to get before the social conservatives drag us all back to the fifties. And there is no shortage of them in Hicksville, USA. One such religious organisation was The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, frothing at the mouth at Netflix for permitting “the sexual exploitation of children” and calling for the company to cut the “sexually-exploitative scenes or stop hosting this film at all”.

In Turkey, the Ministry of Family asked The Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council to have a good look at the film before they asked Netflix to remove it.

Director Doucouré received numerous death threats. She feared that her film would suffer in the existing climate of ‘cancel culture’ but her remonstrations that she was on the side of protesters fell on deaf ears. Social conservatives were eating their own!

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas sent a letter to the Department of Justice to “investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”

A brash publicity photo used by Netflix of the kids looking like the Spice Girls at their height brought about echoes of tabloid-inspired anti-paedophile witch-hunts. The News of the World’s ‘Name and Shame’ springs to mind. But instead of ‘Big Mags’ Haney – a product of the Daily Record’s own SmutWatch campaign – carrying placards through Sterling’s Raploch scheme; in Latin America, #NetflixPedofilia trended on Twitter prior to the film’s Netflix release to cause a drop in new subscriptions for Netflix.

The French director’s guild hit back and criticised the backlash against the film, calling it a “grave attack on freedom of creation” fuelled by “the most conservative of Americans.”

By the end of the film, Amy meets the troupe for the final competition and gets to perform in front of an audience. IMDb Parents Guide lists viewers objections, but the list of outrages are out of context and appear sleazy. One contributor writes of their performance: “The little 11-year-old girls are slapping each other’s buttocks in the film, kissing their hands and then touching their crotches, and rubbing their buttocks together, and making seductive faces while sticking their fingers in their mouth.” In another, the contributor describes the camera as “having a field day!”

But it was not for any sexual gratification that the girls danced. And the only field day the camera was having was contextualising the girls’ behaviour dancing with occasional erotic gestures they barely understood and switching to the girls getting quicky bored and acting silly. The film suspended the girls in a moment of sexual discovery before it had even begun to be sexual. However, the gasps of the parents in the audience seated on white plastic chairs would soon teach the girls something about boundaries. An axe was about to fall on their creativity. This film wasn’t on the side of the artists, it was on the side of the audience in the plastic chairs. It was coming from the same place as those who were organising for Netflix to ban it. (You couldn’t make this up!) The audience of the film criticising immature sexual expression in children was also the audience in the film showing their disgust at these young girls making sexual moves they’d learned off older women teasing and pleasing their own audiences… of men.  

Doucouré pleaded: “We’re both on the same side of this fight against young children’s hypersexualization.”

Hypersexualisation? If anything, kids negotiate their way through landmines of conflicting societal pressures against sexual expression and almost prison-like restrictions on access to appropriate information. Parents want their children to grow up to be sexually attractive, an important ingredient in finding a partner. They usually miss out the word ‘sexual’ but that is what they mean. They want their children to find a partner and be happy. And they usually prefer this to start on a much later date than when they themselves began experimenting with sex.

Girls like those in Cuties need a good sex education to prepare them for the unwanted advances of men and boys. (In one scene a boy smacks a girl’s butt and says if she acts like a whore; he can treat her like one). No, you cannot, was my subconscious response! It reminded me of an incident with a friend whose eyes followed an attractive girl passing in a school uniform, then turned round to me and said: ‘You can look; but you can’t touch’. Good. Keep it that way! We need to equip children to explore at an appropriate time of mental and physical maturity and self-confidence. Sex is not a science, nor is it a set of written instructions passed down by ancient tribes. Like dance, sex is feeling, expression and art. Colours thrown around a canvas in a cocktail of chemical reactions. It is part of us all. It can be learned, enjoyed, and admired. Cuties were not the victims Doucouré wanted to portray: They were young people dancing creatively for an audience immersed in a culture that was as sexually confused as they were.

Any criticism of the film I had would be that Doucouré throws her otherwise confident central character into a state of discord: Lying, stealing, insolence and even posting a picture of her vagina on social media. (This is not shown). Was it the intention to view this as a consequence of Amy choosing a decadent and immoral lifestyle?

Amy’s moral rectitude soon returns when she shocks the audience with her choreography, is reminded of her mother, bursts into tears, runs back to her family, pulls on a pair of jeans, and jumps a skipping-rope with her friends. Moral lesson over.

For me, the cherry on this delicious cake was the music of Senegal artist Ablaye Cissoko which you will have the pleasure of enjoying just before the end titles. That is if you have not already shot your load of outrage well before then.

Garry Otton 2020

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