The recently released Netflix film Cuties has come under intense scrutiny. “Cancel Netflix” was trending on Twitter for hours on Thursday of this week after the French film dropped on Netflix on September 9. Cuties is advertised as a coming-of-age film. The protagonist is a young Senegalese girl named Amy who lives in Paris. Amy turns to peers her age to help her grapple with the changes in her life. The set-up is textbook Bildungsroman: Amy is dealing with significant external as well as internal changes, caught between two cultures, even as her own body seems to be pulling her in new and strange directions.
From the clips I’ve seen and from a handful of reviews I’ve read, I have decided I do not want to watch the film. I will not watch it. Normally my thoughts on Cuties would end at this point; I have become the student I loathe who attempted to write his book report without reading the book. But this is not a book. It is a film, a film that depicts young actresses groping themselves and dancing and posing in blatantly sexual ways. From reviews I’ve read, there is some depraved camera work that overtly highlights the anatomy of these young girls.
In the past, both at The Resurgent and elsewhere on my personal blog, I’ve made impassioned defenses of art some find questionable, specifically literature. I consider myself to be a liberal reader. I will give basically anything a chance, and I usually finish reading any book or series I start because my parents taught me to finish what I start, and, truthfully, I love finishing a book and adding it to my Goodreads list even if there is much to dislike about the book.
I typically don’t believe in banning books or films or art or much of anything, really, or in shaming people, grown adults, for what they read or consume. I think Christians need to tread lightly when they start wagging their finger about cultural matters, particularly books, because more often than not there is a book on your shelf that contains variations of that which you judge another for reading.
I was handed The Awakening as a sixteen-year-old young lady enrolled in a private, Christian high school (and for everything in that last sentence, I am grateful). Premarital (and extramarital) sex is objectionable to Christians, but it is found in many, many novels, sometimes implied, sometimes described. A novel or film, like any artistic expression, is a reflection of the sinful, messy world in which its author lives; how could it not be?
So, having said all this, why is Cuties different? Why am I sounding the alarm about Cuties? For the past day I’ve been toying with assembling a few thoughts about this film, but once I decided against watching it I assumed the matter was closed insofar as me writing any critique of it beyond a despondent tweet or two. That’s the game though, do you see? There is a cacophony of voices entreating people to watch the film for themselves before passing judgment. Once you watch, they win. Here’s a Washington Post piece titled, “The people freaking out about ‘Cuties’ should try it. They might find a lot to like.” Netflix has defended the film as “social commentary.” The actual social commentary is not the content of Cuties but rather the fact that what amounts to child pornography was scripted, filmed, released to the public, and the public is being told to watch it before offering any criticism of it.
I cannot watch it for practical reasons as I do not want to signal to Netflix that I have any interest in this film. I cannot watch it for emotional and spiritual reasons because I would see things I would never be able to unsee. It is this visual aspect of Cuties, the fact that these are actual young girls who were cast specifically for this film, knowing what is called for in the script, that elevates this discussion beyond traditional discussions about art and artistic freedom.
I am normally in the other camp. I am normally the one saying, “Read the book first. Give it a try, and then we’ll talk about it.” While reading is my first love, I enjoy visual mediums as much as anyone. I read and watch Outlander. The visual interpretation of Outlander is known for its adult content. There is nudity. The actors and actresses are adults, as am I. We are adults who make informed choices. I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that there are parents who allowed their daughters to participate in the filming of this movie. It’s not a book; those are very real, very young, very vulnerable girls doing all manner of depraved things no young girl ought to do, certainly not while being filmed for an audience. It is a film that no doubt will delight pedophiles. There are other, better ways to tell coming-of-age stories; this can certainly be done without filming young girls’ crotches.
Were these scenes found on the computer of someone under investigation, that individual would likely be in some legal trouble. With Cuties, we have stepped over a threshold we’ve been flirting with for some time now. It is pedophilic content wrapped in fancy phrases like coming-of-age and social commentary. Do not be pressured into watching this film anymore than you feel pressured to commit adultery before asserting that adultery is immoral.
To quote George R. R. Martin, “Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.” There is no social commentary so crucial that young girls must be filmed dancing provocatively, groping themselves first for a camera crew who will then share the footage with the world.