How Netflix Failed Maïmouna Doucouré’s Coming-Of-Age Film “Cuties”

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2020 Sundance Film Festival - "Cuties" Premiere

Source: Ilya S. Savenok / Getty

Maïmouna Doucouré’s film Cuties, is a creative work that pulls from her experience of growing up as a young, Black immigrant in Paris, France, through the lens of the main character Amy, an 11-year-old Muslim girl who is trying to find connection and her voice through an all-girl dance troupe.

Doucouré’s film Cuties, which was originally named MIGNONNES, was widely received this year at Sundance, with watchers anticipating new voices to widen the frame of Black stories told in the homogenized film industry. Since that time, the film has been picked up by Netflix, and therein where the transformation of the narrative begins.

It started when the poster for the film dropped, profiling the dance troupe in their costumes in what could be perceived as provocative poses. Twitter jumped to condemn the film for imagery that is founded in truth, but was not a thematic theme in the film. Adultifcation and hyper-sexualization in pop culture is a central topic of the film, due to the main character being a young Black woman, tied to the history of colonization in Europe and slavery in the America’s.

A Change.org petition was created to remove the film. It currently has over 300,000 signatures. Due to the backlash, there are reports that Doucouré has even received death threats and harassing messages online.

Actress Tessa Thompson, was one of the voices who tried to erase the false assumptions regarding what the film represented.

“‘Cuties’ is a beautiful film,” Thompson wrote on Twitter. “It gutted me at [Sundance]. It introduces a fresh voice at the helm. She’s a French Senegalese Black woman mining her experiences. The film comments on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescent girls. Disappointed to see the current discourse”

Thompson added, “Disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing. I understand the response of everybody. But it doesn’t speak to the film I saw.”

Netflix has responded under the heat of the criticism, but changing the poster to a single image of Amy’s character and releasing an apology to their audience.

“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignones/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description,” the company wrote in Tweet.

The marketing around Cuties left a misrepresentation stain on xxx, film and highlights what happens when people at the forefront have no interest in learning about or identifying cultural nuances far different from their own. A shining moment for Doucouré can hopefully be turned around if we support the film so that the door is not shut on Black creators and filmmakers.

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