Netflix issued an apology on Thursday for its marketing of “Cuties,” a French film that has been criticized as sexualizing underage girls.
The film, a coming-of-age movie by French-Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, won an award for directing at the Sundance Film Festival in January and will be released internationally by Netflix on Sept. 9.
Focusing on an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant who becomes invested in a risqué dance crew as a means of escaping a strict, religious home life, the film was described by The Hollywood Reporter as establishing a “critical view of a culture that steers impressionable young girls toward the hyper-sexualization of their bodies.” It has received both positive and negative reviews, with praise given to its acting and criticism of its plot and pacing, and in interviews, Doucouré has explained that her intent was to investigate the idea of femininity and criticize the effect that sexualized social media imagery can have on children.
The film, however, has sparked outcry across social media after its promotional materials were released Tuesday, with numerous voices criticizing the film’s poster and its description on the streaming service: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
As of Thursday, multiple petitions asking Netflix to recall “Cuties” emerged on Change.org, with one that had gathered more than 100,000 signatures calling the movie “child pornography.” The Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog group, also asked the streaming service to remove “Cuties,” grouping it with films including “365 days,” a Polish thriller that has been accused of promoting kidnapping and rape. And in an unexpected turn of events, the anonymous image board 4chan ― often known for trolling and organizing harassment campaigns ― allegedly banned users from posting imagery from the film.
Netflix announced on Thursday that the company was “deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork,” arguing that it did not represent the movie’s intent. The film received a new poster and an updated description that says: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.”
In the aftermath of Netflix’s apology, others pointed out that the company’s marketing was to blame, since the original French release of the film ― known as “Mignonnes,” which roughly correlates with the English title ― received a very different poster, with nary a twerk in sight. They argued that the film was being taken out of context and that its promotion had been inappropriate.
British columnist and director Daniellé Scott-Haughton, who often writes about race, agreed with this interpretation. She denounced those with knee-jerk reactions who would “rather jeopardize the livelihood of a Black woman than [do] a little research” and shared a video of Doucouré explaining her intentions with the film.