Canada, Cinema, Culture, Diversity, Entertainment, Europe, Identity, Immigration, Migration, Sex, Top Stories, Women

Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film

If you’d asked me a month ago what could possibly break through a news cycle dominated by the biggest global pandemic in a century, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the worst civil unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights Era, a diverse, French arthouse film about four 11-year-old girls trying to win a dance competition wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Yet since its recent release on Netflix, Cuties has broken through the noise, and how.

I wish it were for the right reasons: For instance, because Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has written and directed a brilliant, award-winning first feature drawn from her experience growing up as an immigrant kid caught between cultures. Or because it’s alive with tenderness and heartache: a grittier, cross-cultural Eighth Grade about friendship, the love of a parent and child, and our longing to fit in, no matter our age, no matter the price. Or because it’s alive to injustice without preaching or judgement.

But no. Cuties has broken through because of grotesquely false charges of child pornography.

The conservative Parents Television Council has demanded that Netflix drop the film on grounds of child exploitation. So have the 600,000-plus signatories of a Change.org petition. QAnon conspiracists have linked it to a fictional Deep State pedophile ring. GOP senator Ted Cruz has demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether Netflix and the filmmakers have violated federal laws “against the production and distribution of child pornography.” And his fellow Republican Tom Cotton has tweeted, “Like any parent, I find Netflix[‘s] decision to peddle child pornography disgusting. And it’s criminal. Justice Department should take swift action.”

A cynic might think that Republicans, facing hostile voters in November, think a culture war pitting their defence of family values against the depredations of godless porn-friendly Democrats might offer a lifeline. In which case, they didn’t count on Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine, who has stated that Cuties “hypersexualizes girls my daughter’s age no doubt to the delight of pedophiles like the ones I prosecuted.” (She previously served as Assistant District Attorney in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit for the city of San Francisco.) Likewise, Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a longshot presidential contender earlier this year, charged that Cuties will “whet the appetite of pedophiles and help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.” Well then.

It would surprise me if any of them have seen the movie. In fact, Cruz’s spokesperson explicitly reported that “of course [the Senator] has not watched a movie that sexualizes and fetishes young girls. The content has been widely reported and is not in dispute. There should be absolutely no place for the filming and distribution of these scenes—regardless of the purported objective of the filmmaker.”

Actually, the only things “not in dispute,” and which seem to be at the root of the controversy, are the first Netflix poster and a three-minute excerpt that shows the girls twerking at the competition. Both are intentionally provocative and disturbing. The poster shows the girls posed in crop tops and short shorts. The twerking is, well, twerking.

But step outside the moral-outrage machine and you realize that the crop tops and short shorts in the poster are the same tops and shorts you see young girls wearing at the mall; the delinquents-in-training who leave you wondering, “How did they get out of the house dressed like this? Where are their parents?” (Answer: Maybe out working two or three jobs to keep a roof over their family’s head. Or maybe the girls stashed the clothes at a friend’s house or in a backpack or school locker. Or maybe their parents have simply knuckled under.)

As for the twerking excerpt, it features the same bum-shaking gyrations that young girls watch all the time in music videos and TikTok dances on their phones. And which they imitate because that’s what you do when you’re a tween and want to act older, or be cool with your friends, or shock adults, or have fun pretending you’re a star. If you’re in any doubt that sexualized dance moves have been normalized for tweens, you haven’t been around an upper middle school lately. Ask teachers why dances are so hard to chaperone, not to mention talent nights. Better yet, ask your kids.

Cuties shares the wide consensus that the normalization of sexualized kids is wrong; that they’re being tossed into dangerous waters for which they’re intellectually and emotionally unprepared; and that the wider culture is turning into a grooming factory for big business. But this sexualization is a social issue. Attacking Cuties for addressing real life is a classic case of shooting the messenger.

Nor have the girls involved been exploited. They’re doing no more onscreen than girls their age do offscreen. They were accompanied on set by their parents and a child psychologist. And they were rehearsed by a female director who got the idea for the film after seeing—and being disturbed by—a dance competition like the one in the film.

Further, considering the hardcore nightmares that are reportedly available online, the idea that pedophiles are going to sit through a foreign film to see a few minutes of fully clothed kids doing music video routines is beyond absurd. As for encouraging the child sex trade, the charge is pure Trumpian delusion.

There’s a long and understandable fear and concern about the sexualization and exploitation of children in film, for the very good reason that children’s roles are played by actual kids. In 1962, Sue Lyon starred in Stanley Kubrick’s X-rated Lolita opposite James Mason. He was 52: She was 15, too young to see her own performance. Dominique Swain also was 15 when she was cast in the 1997 remake. (It raised so much controversy that it nearly didn’t get a US distributor, even though it co-starred Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffiths, and Frank Langella.)

Even more controversial were the career-making roles of Brooke Shields and Jodie Foster. Shields was 11 and Foster 12 when they played child sex workers: Foster in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), and Shields in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978). In the latter, Shields is raised in a brothel, has her virginity auctioned to the highest bidder, and has a “consensual” relationship with 44-year-old Ernest J. Bellocq. She appears to be nude in several scenes, although she was in a body stocking. (As an adult, Shields has raved about her experience, and said the hardest thing was saying goodbye to her on-set family. Still.)

Other examples abound, many considered benign. Leslie Caron may have been 25 when she starred as Gigi (1958), but she’s playing the part of a tween being groomed as a courtesan/child-mistress by her aunt. It’s more than creepy to hear “old roué” Maurice Chevalier sing, “Thank Heaven for little girls.”

The thing that makes these older examples much more shocking than Cuties is the role these children played: actual sex objects for adults. This is not only a material, thematic difference, but one that includes their physical integrity. We say acting is pretend, but kisses and caresses are real.

That’s why the true parallels to Cuties and today’s tween twerking are child beauty pageants which, for generations, have sexualized children in catwalk parades and swimsuit competitions. Within the past decade, the public appetite for this fare was big enough to maintain two hit reality shows: Toddlers and Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. For diversity, let’s not forget CBC’s Drag Kids, “a daring and touching portrait of four kids chasing freedom and friendship through the art of drag.” Cuties itself is basically an updated Little Miss Sunshine, highlighting the difference between kids dressing up for play’s sake and turning play into inappropriate public performance in a bid for adult attention and acceptance.

This brings me to Cuties’ storyline and the questions it raises, which go far beyond a dance competition. Spoilers follow, but since this is a film driven by characters and relationships rather than plot, they shouldn’t much affect your viewing.

Amy, 11, is from a conservative Muslim family. She and her mother, Mariam, along with two younger brothers, have recently emigrated from Senegal and moved into a housing project in one of Paris’s poorest neighbourhoods, where they wait for her father to join them. One day, while hiding under a bed, Amy overhears her aunt and mother talking. Her father is bringing a second wife back from Senegal and her mother is crushed. But the aunt scolds her: To be a good wife, Mariam must phone her friends and relatives to share her happiness about the “good news,” and must also help prepare the homecoming and wedding celebration. Amy’s eyes fill with tears as her mother, voice breaking, does as she’s told.

Increasingly alienated from traditions reinforced within the local ex-pat Senegalese community, Amy falls in with a group of rebellious latchkey girls, becoming best friends with Angelica, who lives in her building. The kids have formed a dance group called Cuties, in hopes of winning a twerking competition. They rehearse in an abandoned lot under a bridge, giggling as they copy music-video moves from a phone. When they aren’t practicing, they do stupid kid things like squeal in horror at sex-ed misinformation, dare Amy to run into a boys washroom with her phone-camera on (she’s quickly chased out), and try unsuccessfully to anonymously engage a teenage boy they like in a chat session.

Amy’s mother and aunt become increasingly upset with her behaviour, especially when they find her stash of secret clothes. They bring in the imam to see if she’s possessed, (he says no), and later sprinkle her with water in a purification trial. But the closer Amy gets to her father’s return and wedding, the more she acts out. She gets into a fight at school. And, on a terrible impulse, she posts a photo of her privates, with consequences at school and in her friend group. (She’s clothed: We see nothing.)

Amid complications, the competition takes place the same day as her father’s wedding, and Amy sneaks away to perform. The girls’ routine to a family-friendly audience draws frowns and scattered boos. Amy hears her mother’s voice in her head and freezes, then runs offstage and home to her mother’s arms. Auntie says she looks like a whore. But Mariam understands the rebellion, and tells the aunt to leave Amy be. When the two are alone, Mariam holds her and says that while she’s decided to be a good wife and accept the marriage and celebration, Amy is free not to go.

The film ends with Amy exiting past the arriving guests, wearing neither her costume nor traditional dress, but an everyday top and jeans. She joins some new kids, skipping. We have the impression that Amy is on the road to finding herself, freed of the restrictions of both religious and secular expectations.

That’s it. That’s what all the fuss is about.

One final aside: Ted Cruz has fanned a false Twitter claim that Amy exposes a breast. Never. The girls are completely dressed at all times. Nor are they ever lured or touched. Cruz may be referring to an 18-year-old in a rival dance group who flashes a breast at the girls to mock them as babies. The circulation of misinformation about this film is infuriating.

Maïmouna Doucouré’s script is both delicate and tough as nails. Her characters are so, so vulnerable. When one of the girls sees a condom in the park and mistakes it for a balloon, her friends laugh at her and she bursts into tears. Later, as Amy lounges with ringleader Angelica, Amy braiding their hair together, Angelica says how her parents are never home, how they say she’s no good. “But I can dance. I have a dream that one day they’ll see me on stage and be proud of me. People say if you dream of something three times, it will happen on the third time. So far I’ve dreamed it twice.”

Then there’s the scene in which Amy and her mother are in the kitchen when her father calls from Senegal. Mariam puts on a show of happiness, then passes Amy the phone. “Amy?… Hello, Amy?…” her father says. Amy stays silent. Mariam urges her to say something. Amy looks her in the eye and drops the phone out the window. “I hope he never comes home.”

Doucouré’s writing is remarkably honest and free of judgment, not only in dealing with the girls, but in the no-nonsense way she addresses the minefield of cultural difference. She doesn’t sugarcoat Mariam’s pain and anguish, but neither are her community members portrayed as monsters. Auntie unquestionably loves her sister and niece; the importance she places on tradition and honour is heartfelt, not punitive; and she’s clearly happy in her role. The imam is sensitive to Mariam’s feelings: “God never gives women more than they can bear,” he says, a would-be pastoral consolation familiar to Christians, too. Later, he lets Mariam know that she’ll be permitted to leave the marriage if she finds that the situation remains unbearable. Both male and female wedding guests are shown in a high celebratory mood, laughing, dancing, and singing, at one in their community.

Doucouré’s direction is assured, especially in two areas central to the film’s success: The performances she draws from her child actors and her bold camera choices during the twerking sequences. First-time actors Fathia Youssouf as Amy, and Médina El Aidi-Azouni offer stunning performances. Utterly natural and unforced, they are by turns funny, defiant, sweet, and ferocious. It’s impossible to fake the bond they clearly have for each other and their director. (Doucouré gets equally top-rate, turn-on-a-dime performances from Maïmouna Gueye as Mariam and Senegalese star Mbissine Thérèse Diop as Auntie, and solid ensemble work from the rest of her cast.)

As for the twerking: The worst thing Doucouré could have done would have been to minimize the discomfort we feel watching the girls during rehearsals and performance. It would have been so easy to play the scenes for laughs, kids making fools of themselves as they pretend to be older than they are. Instead, Doucouré has the camera pan over the girls in closeup, turning viewers into voyeurs to disturbing, repellent effect. Doucouré refuses to let us off the hook.

Of course, provoking that reaction is why the Cuties outrage has been ramped up to include death threats for its director. It’s also a clear example of the always-necessary need for context, even for film. Absent context, what we think we’ve seen with our own eyes and what is actually there to be seen are two different things.

Beyond the excellence of Doucouré’s direction, cast, and screenplay, Cuties is a must-see for its exploration of culture; specifically, social constructs as both refuge and prison. Just as Amy rejects her traditional role, she has a need to fit in with her secular friends, even when it goes against her own interests. Mariam also struggles with her role as wife within a traditional, soon-to-be polygamous marriage. On the one hand, she feels pain and loss. On the other, she draws comfort from her community. What do we do to belong? Where do we find our peace and fulfillment? Both Amy and Mariam struggle, but in the end, they control their choices.

One joy about watching a fine film is the opportunity to see life through another lens—especially, as in this case, a film about cultural differences in a diverse society. Where does one stand on cultural relativism? Are there analogous elements in one’s own culture that appear offside to others? Rigidly enforced sex roles are another apparent area of cultural contention in the film. But then we remember that, as recently as the 1970s, married women weren’t allowed to have bank accounts in some jurisdictions. And it was seen as socially unacceptable for a wife to drive the family car. (Culturally, Cuties also helps remind us that, outside certain academic and activist subcultures in the West, biology is definitely considered very real. Try telling women from cultures like Amy and Mariam’s that being a woman isn’t tied to physical sex rather than a self-defined gender. But I digress.)

Do we see stories as a means for moral instruction, or as a means to ask questions about life? Do we think they should show things as they should be—or as they are? The Puritans wanted to close the theatres because they believed that people who saw plots and murder onstage would be led to sedition and anarchy. Shakespeare, on the other hand, called on theatre to “hold the mirror up to nature.” Both sides of this centuries-long culture war are alive and kicking today.

 

Canadian writer Allan Stratton is the internationally acclaimed author of Chanda’s Secrets and many other books. His literary awards and citations include the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Honor Book, the Children’s Africana Book Award, and Booklist’s Editor’s Choice. He lives in Toronto with his husband and two cats.

Featured Image: A scene from the 2020 Netflix film “Cuties.”

Comments

  1. But step outside the moral-outrage machine and you realize that the crop tops and short shorts in the poster are the same tops and shorts you see young girls wearing at the mall; the delinquents-in-training who leave you wondering, “How did they get out of the house dressed like this? Where are their parents?” (Answer: Maybe out working two or three jobs to keep a roof over their family’s head.

    But we’re not biased or anything…

    As for the twerking excerpt, it features the same bum-shaking gyrations that young girls watch all the time in music videos and TikTok dances on their phones. And which they imitate because that’s what you do when you’re a tween and want to act older, or be cool with your friends, or shock adults, or have fun pretending you’re a star. If you’re in any doubt that sexualized dance moves have been normalized for tweens, you haven’t been around an upper middle school lately. Ask teachers why dances are so hard to chaperone, not to mention talent nights. Better yet, ask your kids.

    So… we shouldn’t worry about this sexualization because there’s other sexualization happening.

    Somebody tell everybody in the world who’s got a grievance!

    Attacking Cuties for addressing real life is a classic case of shooting the messenger.

    This has been covered in satire already, though this author makes clear that his bias precludes reading Babylon Bee:

    Nor have the girls involved been exploited. They’re doing no more onscreen than girls their age do offscreen.

    Every conceivable immorality is being done “offscreen”. That doesn’t mean nothing is ever wrong.

    And they were rehearsed by a female director who got the idea for the film after seeing—and being disturbed by—a dance competition like the one in the film.

    Not disturbed enough, apparently.

    the idea that pedophiles are going to sit through a foreign film to see a few minutes of fully clothed kids doing music video routines is beyond absurd.

    Straw. Man.

    As for encouraging the child sex trade, the charge is pure Trumpian delusion.

    Of course this author invokes Trump. But don’t worry, folks, we can still regard him as a sincere, neutral party!

    As for the allegation, it’s absurd that in the age of Cancel Culture anyone would deny that portrayals of teen sexuality won’t encourage it. These people won’t even let us make the ok sign!

    One final aside: Ted Cruz has fanned a false Twitter claim that Amy exposes a breast. Never. The girls are completely dressed at all times. Nor are they ever lured or touched. Cruz may be referring to an 18-year-old in a rival dance group who flashes a breast at the girls to mock them as babies.

    So there’s an exposed breast, and the message is that the 11-year-olds are made to feel jealous due to the inadequacy of their own breasts. Yep, nothing to worry about here!

    Doucouré’s writing is remarkably honest and free of judgment, not only in dealing with the girls, but in the no-nonsense way she addresses the minefield of cultural difference.

    Free of judgment? That’s the problem. Of course, other defenders of the film insist that it IS judging, and is judging negatively. Which is it?

    As for the twerking: The worst thing Doucouré could have done would have been to minimize the discomfort we feel watching the girls during rehearsals and performance. It would have been so easy to play the scenes for laughs, kids making fools of themselves as they pretend to be older than they are. Instead, Doucouré has the camera pan over the girls in closeup, turning viewers into voyeurs to disturbing, repellent effect. Doucouré refuses to let us off the hook.

    Still free of judgment? Also, tip to the author: If you’re trying to dispute allegations of sexualization, referring to the audience as “voyeurs” isn’t a good idea, nor is asserting that the director is trying to force them into that role.


    The rest of this article praises the movie for things unrelated to the controversy, as if “but they did good things too!” is an argument in defense of bad behavior. Hey, the Nazis built the autobahn, right?

    And many of this author’s “good things” are partisan. They are “good” by “progressive” standards, but not by the standards of other people. The author doesn’t merely seem to not care about this distinction; he seems oblivious to it. He is preaching to the left-wing choir here.

    Canadian writer Allan Stratton is the internationally acclaimed author of Chanda’s Secrets and many other books. He lives in Toronto with his husband and two cats.

    Of course he does.


    EDIT: After reading the review by @MacNCheez, I must criticize Allan Stratton far more than I did before. He clearly declined to mention a number of the least defensible aspects of the movie in his “defense”. This is not the behavior of a principled reviewer; it’s the behavior of an agenda-driven partisan of low integrity.

  2. Mr. Stratton has missed the point about conservative outrage, which is that any hypersexualization of children is anathema, regardless of how ubiquitous it may be.

    Once the hand-waving dismissiveness and sneering is (mostly) out of the way, the admission that

    " Actually, the only things “not in dispute,” and which seem to be at the root of the controversy, are the first Netflix poster and a three-minute excerpt that shows the girls twerking at the competition. Both are intentionally provocative and disturbing."

    (emphasis mine)

    Is good to see, and I applaud the author of the article for making that concession to fair-mindedness, in however faint a manner. If the intentions of the scriptwriter and director are as Mr. Stratton asserts, he has his answer to the question of how such a film broke into the news cycle; a film that seems directed toward family viewing, is provoking and disturbing a segment of the population that does not approve of public displays of hypersexuality, such disapproval inclusive of the age group that these children seek to emulate.

    As far as comparisons with “Lolita” may be concerned, Nabokov’s work also dealt with the pathos of destructive human passions in an insightful manner, but he did not celebrate those passions as desirable or normative. The film was neither blueprint nor encouragement; “Cuties” appears to be both.

  3. Taxi Driver had a then 13 year old Jodi Foster as a prostitute. It was scandalous at the time, but also undeniably a comment on our society.

    Cuties on the other hand is kiddie porn. Nothing more, nothing less. It is unacceptable that Netflix goes without criminal charges, something now being looked at.

    Just as troubling to me is why would a company like Netflix do this? How did it get past their Board? Their production team? Their internal review process?

    If i was a single 25 year old male, it might not be a big deal. But as a dad w teen daughters, the whole thing is deeply disturbing to me. Old Dudes need more say, it keeps coming back to that.

  4. Disclaimer… I have not seen the movie.

    A couple points that I believe the author was trying to make:

    • There has been extensive and visceral criticism by people who haven’t seen the movie. Each person should see the movie then criticize. (I will attempt to not break this rule as I type.)
    • Context is important. The story the author describes is perhaps an important one in our current times - the immigrant/race riots in France in 2005, current immigration in the US, wide-spread poverty and the desperation of getting a better life. Perhaps the poster was out of context for the movie and should have been one of the girls with their family since that seems to be the point of the movie not the short dance routine.
    • The criticism of “Cuties” is disproportionate to the lack of criticism for music videos, actions of our leaders, extensive semi-nude/violent images plastered across the internet seen as news, similar movies/shows (Dance Moms, Housewives of Everywhere,child beauty contests, Bachelor, Naked and Afraid, Survivor, long list of slasher movies, long list of violent movies,…)… All should be criticized, not just one - but then we run into free speech.

    Unfortunately, I think the author was not clear enough on these points.

    I also have a tween daughter and I believe she might learn some valuable cultural aspects from the film though it is unlikely we will watch it - no Netflix. She would likely be so wrapped up in the storyline she wouldn’t even notice the dancing or costumes - she has been immunized by the real world (unfortunately) (Yes, I am biased and proud of the intelligence of my children.) I know this because she has seen endless shows on Disney and elsewhere that always have a life lesson and she watches closely how people are treated and relates. Sometimes kids need to be given small doses of reality and, from the little I just picked up, the criticized parts of this movie are a small dose - compare to “We Hope They Die!”. Having said this, if the director and/or Netflix purposely added disturbing scenes just to get media clicks then disregard all positive things I am stating here.

    As for pedophiles, they might watch the 3-minute excerpt (I doubt it) but they certainly won’t watch the movie for their kicks. The author is correct that this is far too little when so much more disturbing material is online.

    Again, I have not seen the movie and likely won’t but I as well am surprised by the media attention based on the discussion.

  5. I’m a mom of a 17 year old daughter. I watched the entire film and also the bonus interview of the director. I watched the interview because after watching the film I really didn’t quite understand the point she was trying to make. I mean I did but I didn’t. I understood the struggle of Amy trying to fit in and being caught between two very different cultures. I was happy for her in the end that she decided to enjoy what little time she had left to be a child. But I did not understand the necessity of having 11 year old girls perform over the top sexual displays.

    I really, really, really, tried to be objective and argue with myself. My daughter took dance for 5 years, and often I felt some of the outfits were a tad inappropriate but NEVER were any of the dances like what is in this movie. Not even CLOSE!

    I have seen plenty of young girls in the malls with their behinds sticking out of shorty shorts, and would NEVER permit my daughter to do the same. Also, year after year, on the night of homecoming in our suburb, you can go to any restaurant and see girls in dresses barely covering their back side and wobbling around on what I call “hooker heels.” With a pimply faced boy way shorter than them looking goofy in an oversized suit.

    However, the girls in the shorts and dresses are middle-high school aged. The author mentions the film Eighth Grade. Believe it or not, age 13 and up is far different from 11! I know it may not SEEM like it is, but it just IS!

    Girls doing dances on Tik Tok are basically for other kids their age. This film was not marketed or rated for tweens or teens. It was for adults to view.

    I think the scene that disturbed me most was where she attempted to seduce an adult male relative because he was angry at her for stealing his phone. This plays right into the idea that a girl of 11 has the ability to use sex as a tool of manipulation. I’m sorry but there’s just NO F-ING WAY I can buy into that notion. Even if the girl watched porn or grown women doing sexy things online. That’s just too big of a psychological leap for an 11 year old girl to make. I struggled to reconcile how she was vulnerable and confused but able to think of giving an adult male a come hither look and start to pull down her pants. They had the group of girls do the same to 2 security guards. I suppose it was to show that she learned it from her friends? So they’re confused about a condom but know how to attempt to seduce grown men? It seems like mixed signals.

    I don’t know. Maybe some 11 year olds are far more mature in different cultures and different parts of the world than where I live. I mean mature enough to know enough to be sexually confused at such a tender age. I struggle to grasp it though.

    I believe the director had good intentions. I just think the film was done badly and pushed the envelope too far.

    If she had used 13-14 year olds it likely STILL might have caused outrage, but I have a hunch that it might not have been quite as much. I don’t know because while that is the about the age girls really do start to develop physically, that is still very young psychologically.

    I do feel our culture has a serious problem with the pornification of young females and social media rewarding poses in skimpy clothes and pouty faces.

    I guess I just feel the point still could have been made without showing 11 year old girls grabbing themselves, sticking their fingers in their mouths, humping the ground, taking photos of their genitals and posting them and attempting to seduce a relative. Plus showing pretty close up and graphic parts of their bodies in highly sexual positions. That’s A LOT more than just twerking. Twerking is bad enough!

    It pushed the envelope too far with girls far too young and that was unnecessary in my opinion.

  6. The problem is the sexualization of the individual actual real children in the film. Whatever important social messages the film might or might not convey are beside the point.

  7. Quillette does a very fine job in offering a variety of views, there will be some to agree with and some to not, however we should not judge Quillette for publishing it. Your beef is with the movie’s creators.

  8. The usual argument. See my previous thread, “is supporting pedophilia next for progressives”?

    First, the people who are outraged are naturally seen as stupid, as not understanding the film.

    They understand very well. The real goal of the film is to eventually make pedophilia acceptable. This happened before in exactly this way with other “brave” “art” (Gilbert and George’s “s**t pictures”, anybody?) used to “transgressively” make other outrages acceptable.

    Claiming the critics are just not “sophisticated” enough to “understand” the film is a con man’s disappointed parting insult, when the “mark” doesn’t buy his scam. His parting shot is always that the mark must be stupid to not understand what great opportunity the con man is offering.

    Second, there is a lot of talk about how artistically wonderful the film is.

    If so, that just makes things worse. Triumph of the Will is a great film. Great art in support of monstrous goals is morally worse than mediocre art in support of monstrous goals. It does far more harm.

  9. I get that it’s attempting to make a point. And the point might even be a good one. However. As has already been pointed out, it should be possible to criticize a behaviour without engaging in that behaviour. The Babylon Bee’s take on Netflix’s next film about the evils of killing puppies, in which puppies are killed, is very apt.

  10. Further, considering the hardcore nightmares that are reportedly available online, the idea that pedophiles are going to sit through a foreign film to see a few minutes of fully clothed kids doing music video routines is beyond absurd.

    Is the presumption here that the only way to see the few minutes you’re interested in is to watch the whole movie? Wow!

    Leaving that one aside, the argument regarding availability of child porn and the supposed lack of appeal of something so softcore is probably also rather naive (to pick the most charitable option).

    There are a considerable number of vlog and instructional channels on YouTube with a mother/family orientation ( “Our day at the park” or “What to pack for a day at the park” type of things.) A while ago, a lot of these channels were either censored or completely taken down by their owners. Apparently, some moms noticed a pattern in the analytics of their videos in which videos taken at the beach/pool/bath time had significantly more views, with the majority of the surplus being through external websites which embedded their videos. Dots were connected, the information spread and moms started to be more careful with what they post.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that not all parents who run such channels used this information in the way you’d hope. :cry:

    Sidenote: I realize that there are ethical concerns of putting your kids on YouTube, even outside of this particularly horrid angle, but I wanted to stay on topic.

  11. This entire fucking review is in the vein of so many typical leftist approaches to issues: you people are just too stupid to not understand how incredibly cultured this is. If only you could really appreciate art and what the artist is trying to say…

    Lampshading bullshit, plain and simple. I don’t think this film is child porn but there is no question that over-sexualizing young people is a socially irresponsible thing to do… even if it is being done by a clever fucking European artiste… Desensitization is a real thing. It is done in matters concerning violence, sex, drugs and all other manner of social ill. Films like this only help to normalize discussions, ideas, tropes and images that do not belong in civilized society. The author of this article, along with the film director should take their courageous stand on the road and organize screenings of this movie in Tehran, Beijing and maybe Jakarta and see what the “plebs” really think of this sort of shit.

  12. “I can, there are some pretty screwed-up households out there and in some cultures such things would not be so surprising, 11 year old girls will use the levers they have to manipulate their parents and relatives, under some upbringings I can see the sexuality being used as one of those levers by a girl with the right (wrong?)”

    This is true, I grew up with a few girls like this. The issue I have is that none of them started actually behaving that way until around 13-14, some I’m pretty sure even lost their virginity. Of course at that age rumors start to fly based on what other kids witness, such as excessive flirting and constantly seeking of male attention. Going into a closet to play “7 mins in Heaven.” Plus some kids lie to appear more advanced than their peers and to have “street cred.” “I’ve already tried beer.” “I’ve already smoked.” “I’ve already gone all the way.” The kids I knew who were like that in middle school did have issues at home. Both boys and girls did this.

    Nobody I knew behaved this way at 11. Nobody.

    If it’s more common today at the age of 11 for girls to be behaving this way, due to the internet and our culture, then we do have very serious issues. Of course if it is common I have to wonder why so many find it so upsetting.

    I’m personally glad to see so much outrage over the movie.

    This morning I find myself wondering though, how it seems to be more people on the left championing this film for showing the struggle of young females being sexually exploited and confused by our culture. But at the same time, it’s, people on the left celebrating sexually explicit videos like “WAP” and child drag queens doing a dance for adults and getting dollar bills. Spouting off about “rape culture” and #metoo.

    I’m a grown woman and I myself am getting confused by all of the mixed signals!

    Trying to raise a daughter in this world today has not been an easy task. But I am grateful she had a childhood and remained a bit of an ugly duckling up until about the 9th grade when the braces came off.

  13. Excuse my ignorance, not having seen the film, but somewhere behind the din of argument, isn’t there an unforgivably amateur gaping hole in the plot, script and direction for which Doucore can be held to account? We’re expected to believe this professionally staged local ‘dance competition’ allows unaccompanied small children not just to attend but to appear onstage as an act, unchallenged. And so the twerking act goes public, which is the plot trigger for the kids to be booed, and so they can be stung by disapproval, and so the lead character can apparently retrace her steps back into more age-appropriate hobbies. And so what happened to the producers and organisers of the ‘dance competition’ who were so entirely remiss in their duties that they allowed this act to appear onstage? Were they hung up by their thumbs? Chased out of town? Or wined and dined by local dignitaries as a reward for showcasing the most excellent local talent? Is this explored? If not, why not?

    Appalling plot chasms mean the film is cheap and sloppy. Appalling plot chasms that allow the story to stampede right for the juicy, porn-y bit mean that the juicy, porn-y bit is more important than plot integrity, or character development, or relationships and dialogues. It leaves us wondering if it’s the whole purpose of the film, around which everything else is window dressing.

  14. I’ve seen the movie, and bottom line, it’s just a terrible movie. It’s poorly written, poorly acted, poorly choreographed, and poorly directed. But these days that you can’t do a movie review without being accused of some sort of political motivation. Worse still, most reviews are race-based. If the director were white, rather than a person of color, most of the positive reviewers would reverse their opinion of the film.

    In its defense, I think you should be able to make a movie about 11-year-old girls. They exist, they have issues, and the issues deserve discussion. I think that’s what the director set out to do, but she failed miserably.

    Amy steals a phone. No repercussions. But the writer lets her use the phone – an impossibility in this day and age. The writer could easily have engineered a much more plausible scenario where she has her own phone – lots of 11-year-olds have one.

    The apartment has more rooms than most houses, and a confusing number of entrances and exits. Another implausibility for an immigrant family.

    Amy locks her brother in the bathroom with a broom stick. When he overflows the bathtub flooding the apartment, and they have to rescue him, the broom stick is nowhere in sight.Still no repercussions. Have you ever flooded your apartment with no one saying anything? And what was the point of the whole scene? It made no sense.

    Any’s mother gives her her phone to talk to her father. Rather than talk, she tosses the phone out the window. No repercussions. Do you think you’d get away with tossing your mother’s phone out the window?

    There are other incongruities, but you get the point.

    To get in the final dance scene, she has to get rid of one of the other members (and supposedly one of her friends). So she pushes her into a canal where she almost drowns. But from the writer’s point of view, the friend is out of the picture. Also no repercussions for Amy.

    But after dreaming incessantly about dancing, arranging the disappearance of her friend, begging her other friends to let her perform in her place, performing well enough that one of the mothers in the audience feels it necessary to cover the eyes of her son, she just walks away. Without repercussion.

    A normal viewer simply asks “Why? What’s this all about?”. It’s a good thing Stratton told us what the ending rope-skipping scene was all about, because it went over my head.

    Cuties is a bad, bad movie.

  15. I found this debate very disappointing. It came across as very cancel culture to me, with lots of virtue signalling. People threw around the word “pedophile” the way SJWs throw around the words “racist” and “sexist”. You can, of course, dislike the film, or the article, but I found it disturbing that people wanted Claire Lehmann to pull the article. It’s her site, not ours.
    Some things I’d like to mention. Family values (caring for and protecting your children) are a good thing, but they are by no means traditional. It was common practice up until the 20th century to treat children as chattel. For example, children were sold off as chimney sweeps for centuries. By the way, Nike and Disney among others have got rich off child labor. We are talking several thousands of kids. Those companies flourish. I don’t care for Netflix, which pumps out a lot of SJW propaganda, but come on: this film, with a message against child abuse, is worse than companies that got rich off child abuse?
    Also, if this film must not be seen, and defences of this film must not be read or published, what great worriers of the slippery slope is next? How many books do we ban or burn? Can’t be too safe can we? I mean, I remember this from growing up in the 1980s and the PMRC and the Satanic panic. I remember the calls of “do it for the children”, “save the children”. Total BS.
    Anyway, I think this will be my last little missive on Quillette for a while. I’m just not feeling it.

Continue the discussion in Quillette Circle

479 more replies

Participants