Cuties, the film recently released by Netflix, is rather controversial. We follow an Islamic immigrant girl who now lives in France. In an attempt to break away from her identity, she watches sexually suggestive video content. Eventually, she and four other girls enter a dancing competition. In it, they twerk, grind and make sexual gestures to an uncomfortable, yet captive audience. The point of this film is to raise awareness for how young girls are sexually exploitated and abused by modern Western society.
Note: For SEO reasons, I misspell criminal language. Thank you for understanding.
This is a good point. Great, even. Art should always tackle upsetting topics. I’d happily encourage any creative work that highlights human pain. There’s a reason why Snowy Fictions promotes creative freedom and liberty in the Arts, because without it, it’s just propaganda.
However, Cuties is not a triumph. Without knowing the full legal definitions of paed.ophilia and child p.ornography in every country, I’ll say that Cuties is ‘child p.orn’ in the eyes of myself and many other filmgoers. One scene has a preteen girl’s naked bare breast is shown. This is certainly severe. It’s also concerning for the child actors to play such sexualised characters. Also, it’s unnecessary to have close-up shots of a crotch. Despite the supposed good intentions of the director, Cuties betrays its premise. The end result is further degregation of young girls.
I highly recommend reading two articles by Sophia Narwitz, an op-ed writer for RT. (Article One, Article Two). She highlights the core distortion of the films message, and gives specific examples of where Netflix and the film goes wrong. A focal point of Narwitz is that the film could’ve conveyed the message without exploiting children. This is important, as neither Netflix nor the film have a valid excuse for Cuties.
That’s why filmmaking studios must have high standards for how child actors are treated. Children are not adults, and they do not have the reasoning abilities of adults. Child actors can take on challenging roles, but they should not be exploited. For example, the film Lilya 4-ever (2002) has a fourteen year old actress as lead. The film itself is violent, as Lilya is pimped out and abused. However, there is no nudity and all the sex scenes are simulated or implied. Because of that, Lilya 4-ever is a fantastic depiction of violence and exploitation.
I recommend filmmakers and parents follow relevant guidelines regarding child actors. There’s a detailed article from StudioBinder about working with child actors.
Back to the principle question of this article. Should we #CancelNetflix? Personally, I don’t use Netflix. There’s nothing to cancel. I dislike many Netflix shows, and despise their public relations via social media. However, others use Netflix, and enjoy the content they produce. It’s not my decision to argue that you should cancel your Netflix account. That’s up to you. However, I am validated in my choice to not use Netflix.
I am not one for moral outrage or quickly jumping to conclusions. That’s why we must make it clear that artistic expression and freedom are great, yet there is a line between child acting and child exploitation. I do not think writers and filmmakers shouldn’t discuss criminal behaviour, even if its upsetting. Films such as Towelhead (2008) and Fish Tank (2009) have graphic and tough subject matter. Yet they are sophisticated arguments against abuse.
When Netflix released that infamous Cuties poster, I didn’t judge the content of the film. After all, bad marketing happens. I’m not eagar to quickly judge a film based on a poster. I’ve seen how poor marketing can hurt artists, and I didn’t want to contribute to that. It was entirely possible that Cuties would be similar to Lilya 4-ever. However, Cuties was not. It’s a film that wrongfully exploits child actors. It’s perverse and gross.
We must ensure that child actors are protected.
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