OPINION: Ignorance and hypocrisy in the response to "Cuties"
The film "Cuties" — "Mignnones" in French — premiered internationally on Sept. 9 on the streaming platform Netflix. It drew immediate backlash in the U.S., where a number of conservative politicians have called for courts to take action against Netflix. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called for an investigation of the film on the grounds it violated child pornography laws in a letter to Attorney General William Barr. It didn’t take long for Twitter to latch on to "Cuties" with #CancelNetflix trending on the platform after the film’s premiere. The consensus seemed to be that the film sexualized the 11-year-old female dancers it was about.
It’s important to point out that the poster Netflix used to advertise the film showed one of the most sexually explicit scenes in the movie, displaying preteen girls in revealing uniforms and engaging in provocative dancing. Netflix has since apologized for its potentially misleading marketing in a statement on Twitter.
Netflix’s inappropriate advertising aside, the public outrage is ignorant and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the film’s purpose. Some comments can only be explained in the context of the person behind the keyboard not having even seen "Cuties".
See, the film isn’t about dancing girls or risqué outfits; it’s about the culture that sexualizes girls and leads them to believe that their bodies are their value. In an article written for the Washington Post, "Cuties" director Maïmouna Doucouré explained the observations that lead her to make the movie: “The stories that the girls I spoke to shared with me were remarkably similar. They saw that the sexier a woman is on Instagram or TikTok, the more likes she gets.”
The behaviors Doucouré described fit the American Psychological Association’s definition of sexualization startlingly well.
The very scene on the Netflix poster that started the outrage in the U.S. depicted an audience as shocked and upset by what they were watching 11-year-old girls do.
It is hard to decide whether the more troubling aspect of the response to the film from political leaders is the ignorance they demonstrate by calling it child pornography or the hypocrisy of decrying the objectification of girls while supporting Donald Trump.
The president has a long and well documented history of objectifying and demeaning women. He is a regular contributor to the problem "Cuties" is trying to bring attention to. Some of the president’s most shocking comments have been about his daughter, Ivanka Trump, going as far back as 1997. When Ivanka Trump was 16-years-old, she hosted the Miss Teen USA pageant. An article in the Independent referenced a source who claims Trump discussed his daughter being “hot” with the then Miss Universe.
A double standard as obvious as the one displayed by Cruz and other conservative politicians is problematic enough without the climate they are helping to perpetuate in this situation. When girls are facing unprecedented pressures and a harsh social media environment this sort of hypocrisy is dangerous.
One would think the seriousness of an issue like the sexualization and exploitation of girls would transcend politics, but it didn’t stop Cruz from bringing up a deal between Netflix and the Obamas. He highlighted the fact that the Obamas are connected to Netflix in his explanation of his letter to the Justice Department.
The people who piled on the Twitter outrage are guilty of not gaining an understanding of the issue before sharing their views, but those in politics and in the media have a greater responsibility to the people and to the truth. Cruz used his office and his prominence to call for an investigation into a movie he had not seen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) implied Netflix might have to answer to congress over the film. Those in conservative media organizations lambasted the film, like in the case of this tweet from Mary Margaret Olohan.
The rhetoric used by those upset by "Cuties" has had consequences. The film’s director received death threats. Bringing up links between Netflix and the Obamas as part of the controversy has further fueled the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is recognized by the FBI as a domestic terrorist threat. For those of you who don't know, QAnon is a group of people that claim politicians and public figures are engaged in a vast pedophilia ring and Donald Trump is the only one who can stop them. A man believing in a similar theory fired an automatic weapon in a Washington pizzeria. He claimed to be investigating the pizzeria for its links to a pedophilia ring run by the Clintons.
The ignorance demonstrated when public figures accused "Cuties" of child pornography is troubling but not unprecedented. The hypocrisy in supporting Donald Trump and also crusading against the objectification of girls is nothing new. The conspiracy theories and death threats fueled by the words of people like Cruz, Hawley and Olohan represent an existential threat to the safety of Americans.
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Aidan Rhodes is a journalism major from Flagstaff Arizona. He is a passionate chef, athlete and writer.