Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ proves even Black women get it wrong sometimes

Though it was written and directed by a Black woman, "Cuties' is beyond problematic

Earlier this month when I heard the controversy about the poster for Netflix’s latest French import Cuties I took it with a grain of salt. Sure, the imagery was problematic and unbelievably tone-deaf, but I know enough about the industry to have learned that a lot of times how a studio (or streaming service) chooses to market a film has nothing to do with the film itself.

Read More: ‘Cuties’ director Maïmouna Doucouré defends controversial film in op-ed

Also, there’s the fact that the movie was the brainchild of director Maïmouna Doucouré, an absolutely lovely Black woman who gave a thoughtful explanation about how she was moved to make the film as an unflinching look at the way we over sexualize young girls and then judge them for embracing that same sexuality.

Not to mention, when I attended the Sundance Film Festival this year, even though I didn’t make it to a screening myself, I heard that the film was met with a warm response by both audiences and critics alike. So in my mind, this was all just a case of people “putting the cart before the horse” and I figured that as soon as Cuties debuted, this faux controversy would all die down.

But then I actually saw the film myself and… yikes.

Initially, I just thought the characters in the movie were obnoxious, ridiculously dressed and a bit poorly written but didn’t fully understand the #CancelNetflix boycott. After all, I grew up in a time when we were watching movies like 1995’s edgy drama Kids and figured maybe this was an awkward re-imagining of that sort of flick.

That is, until around the 42-minute mark, when an 11-year-old girl started grinding and dry humping the floor of her laundry room while sucking on her finger suggestively. 

This was then followed by an ill-conceived, MINUTES long montage of her teaching her group of friends how to twerk like her while slapping their asses. And the whole time, the viewer’s eyes are intentionally focused on their crotches and backsides as if some dirty old man with a lingering stare is holding the camera. 

That’s when it very clearly dawned on me, “Damn. This time, Twitter got it right. The audience doesn’t need to see these children actually being exploited to get the message.”

Look, I’ve seen a lot of sick s—t in my life and have a pretty strong stomach. So I can’t say I am in alignment with puritanical conservatives attempting to turn this film into a political talking point against the left.

But what I will say is that this “pedophile-friendly” soft-porn spectacle managed to make me angry without actually teaching me a damn thing or elevating the discussion. In this day and age, when sex trafficking stories are making headlines on the daily, and even grown women are scared to go into gas stations alone for fear of being snatched, WHO at Netflix saw this movie and thought it was a good idea for mass consumption?

By the time a little girl in a crop top – an actress that is actually 11-years-old – pulled out her phone and started taking nudes of her vagina, after attempting to seduce a male family member, I legit wanted to track down the number of the director and personally explain to her all the ways she unwittingly failed the narrative. 

2020 Sundance Film Festival - "Cuties" Premiere
Director Maïmouna Doucouré attends the “Cuties” premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival at Egyptian Theatre on January 23, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

And before anyone says anything about, “this was meant to be a social commentary so they had to show that,” please remember that there are plenty of films and shows that tackle these sort of gritty topics without making their audiences feel like calling the cops on everyone involved. In fact, the HBO series Euphoria, starring Zendaya, tackles much heavier subject matter without inciting this much fury and even got some well-deserved Emmy nods. 

But this socially irresponsible dumpster fire is no Euphoria. 

For me, the issue with Cuties is purely a matter of piss-poor execution. Constantly zooming the camera in on little girls’ genitals is an amateur and heavy-handed way to denote child exploitation. Period. There’s no PR person on the planet clever enough to distract me from recognizing that. ⁣

For those who are confused by my dismay: this video below brilliantly explains – in granular detail – everything I believe is wrong with the execution.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I despised a movie this much. But to be honest, I almost didn’t write this op-ed because it was made by a Black woman who is currently getting death threats…and adding to *that* type noise didn’t sit well with my spirit or feel necessary. ⁣

However, seeing Doucouré double down on her film – and presenting this controversy as a misunderstanding between her and the audience in which she has no culpability – has made me rethink that stance. Sis seems to think that just because she had noble intentions, anyone who disagrees with how she chose to go about crafting her message is just not deep enough.

And a lot of the viewers defended her have also been tricked into thinking that just because something is gross and unflinching… that alone makes it edgy and “important.”

Which is total bull because firstly, the movie actually isn’t that deep, fam. Despite its sexually problematic moments, the writing is mediocre and the characters lack the depth that I personally know exists in pre-teens. You could arguably learn more about the sexual exploitation of children by watching a marathon of Law & Order: SVU.

Secondly, it would be disingenuous not to admit that sometimes an artist can mean well but still bite off more than they can chew. This is usually forgivable, except for in cases like this where you end up accidentally making soft kiddie porn that Netflix execs with white guilt green light and distribute to the masses as “art.”⁣

These days many of us are demanding more “strong Black leads” while telling folks to “listen to women.” So do I think the fact that the filmmaker is both Black and a woman made higher-ups hungry to give her a platform? Absolutely. And that’s not a bad thing.

But the rub is: Black women get it wrong sometimes. And this is very decidedly one of those times. ⁣Even if a bunch of you are too busy rooting for her as an archetype to admit that.

While speaking “off the record,” several other Black creatives have confessed to me that they feel similar about Cuties – but like me – feel conflicted about ganging up on someone from our incredibly underserved community. However, the only thing that makes me sicker than having to watch that movie to write this article, is imagining what kind of demented perverts are actually at home enjoying it while the rest of us argue. 

Read More: ‘Cuties’ director received death threats after Netflix marketing campaign

I’ve often said it would take a lot for me to drag a Black artist for their work, given all that they face in the industry, but nah, sis. This ain’t it. 

As for any of my friends who saw the film and sincerely liked it cause you thought your nausea equated depth: please be clear that while I respect YOU… I will probably die thinking it’s trash. So let’s be cool disagreeing on this one.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!