Earlier this month, I watched Cuties, the Netflix movie that has become a polemic in its own right over the past few weeks. In case you haven’t followed: Cuties is a French film about a 13-year-old girl who joins a dance group. It’s a coming-of-age story that does a brilliant job – in my opinion – of depicting the profound pain that often accompanies girlhood.
Crucially, Cuties is a film that denounces, and very clearly shows its opposition to and concerns with, the ways in which our culture hypersexualises young girls, in an entirely inappropriate and traumatising way. It is, even more crucially, not a movie that is in favour, if any way whatsoever, of hypersexualising young girls. It was directed by a woman (the brilliant Maïmouna Doucouré), who presumably knows a thing or two about what it’s like to grow up in a girl’s body.
I liked Cuties. At some points in the movie, I even loved Cuties. I loved the ways in which it reflected all the uncomfortable experiences I went through growing up. It felt cathartic to see reflections of my past self on the screen. Art does that sometimes. It can make you feel heard, seen, understood.
Cuties was done a massive disservice last month by Netflix, which is distributing it internationally. As part of the promotion, Netflix put out – and later removed – a poster that was in incredibly poor taste, and absolutely did not reflect the substance of the film. And so, I wrote a piece about Cuties saying as much. I defended the movie, saying it was too intelligent and moving to be reduced to one bad poster. I wrote the words. They went live on the internet. Business as usual.
Then, the Twitter notifications started trickling down. This rarely announces great news. My pessimism turned out to be accurate: the internet had found the piece. People who had clearly not seen the movie calling me a paedophile or “a friend of Jeffrey Epstein” (I am younger than several of his victims). They tagged the FBI in my mentions, urging federal investigators to look at my hard drive (the contents of which remain painfully boring, I’m afraid). There were gifs and insults and more insults. Though I’m used to people reacting strongly to my opinions as a culture writer and reviewer at an international newspaper, some of the comments were beyond the pale.
It doesn’t help that sexual violence against children (which, again, is absolutely not depicted, nor excused in any way in Cuties) has become politicised as a topic in the US, for complicated, maddening reasons. US senator Ted Cruz, as well as representative Tulsi Gabbard, have both spoken out against Cuties. Cruz has even written a letter to the US Department of Justice asking it to investigate the production and distribution of the film – a move that’s hard to interpret as anything other than political posturing designed to stir up more outrage against a movie that’s getting the most vocally criticised by people who have not watched it.
I don’t regret defending Cuties. I stand by every word I’ve written about this movie. As one wise person said on Twitter, reasonable people can argue both in favour of and against the film. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to want to watch it. If you feel that it will make you too uncomfortable, then by all means, swerve it. But if you feel like it might be for you – perhaps if you have experienced some of the issues it explores, guided by the deft hand of an empathetic female director – then don’t let the controversy put you off.
Cuties is a powerful, important film, and I’m not sorry for saying so.
US culture writer