Groups of conservative provocateurs, QAnon supporters and others on social media have announced the release of the French coming-of-age film Cuties and a trending hashtag “Cancel Netflix” to link the company with pedophilia.
This isn't the first time users have tried to cancel Netflix. Republicans tried it in 2018 after Netflix confirmed it had signed a multi-year deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce a number of titles. Earlier this year, people threatened to cancel Netflix over 365 days, a film in which petitioners argued that they glorified sexual violence against women. And at the same time as people are asking others to cancel Netflix through Cuties, there's a petition from fans of shows like Jessica Jones, The OA, and Anne with an E who are running a campaign to cancel Netflix to get attention about her favorite series that have been canceled.
But while some of these demolition campaigns are pretty straight forward – Republicans don't like the Obamas, Jessica Jones fans just want more Jessica Jones – the cuties situation gets very complicated very quickly. It moves from people getting upset about how young girls were positioned on a poster in a marketing campaign to QAnon supporters who use this as evidence that their dangerous conspiracy theories are real.
Okay let's go back.
What is Duties?
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties is a French film that criticizes society's sexualization of girls. The film follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who lives in Paris and dreams of joining a local dance clique. She decides to protest against the strict household of her parents and to dance her way through competitions with the other girls in order to make a name for herself.
Cuties uses "awkward imagery to provoke serious conversation about girls' sexualization – specifically, regarding girls of color, monitoring a girl's sexuality, double standards, the impact social media has on children, and how children learn these behaviors," according to one Critics wrote about Roger Ebert. Doucouré wants to show that "our children should have the time to be children," she told TIME magazine this month. With pictures of exploited young people, Doucouré would like to show how important innocence is and how much it takes for granted today.
The film even won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival that year and was widely acclaimed for its portrayal of girls' pressures. Netflix secured worldwide streaming rights to the film, with Variety at the time determining that Cuties would be translated into more than 40 languages. Under the Netflix umbrella, the film would be streamed in 190 different territories that Netflix operates in, with the exception of France, where it was distributed domestically.
The attacks on the film began before people had even seen the film. The criticism against Cuties and Doucouré came from people who saw a poster and assumed the movie was a thing, and as the backlash grew, it turned out that criticism was insincere based on preconceived notions of what the movie was without to have sat down to watch it. That's why Netflix only made it worse.
Netflix & # 39; gaffe
Although the movie has been around for a while, it wasn't until August that people really became aware of it.
In August, Netflix tweeted a teaser about the movie's release date, which came with a new poster. The new poster, designed by the Netflix team, seemed to showcase a different type of film than Doucouré's. The original French poster framed the main actresses – young girls walking the streets of Paris, waving around in shopping bags and having fun. The now-deleted Netflix poster positioned the girls as older characters, much like posters for other dance films like Step Up. Here is a side-by-side comparison.
Not long after Netflix tweeted the poster, including describing the film when 11-year-old Amy was "intrigued by a twerking dance crew," tweets surfaced calling Netflix to take the poster off. Those tweets then became some of the various Change.org campaigns that deciphered Netflix's decision to carry the film and garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Within a few days, Netflix had removed the poster and used various graphics for the film on its platform.
"We deeply regret the inappropriate graphics we used for Cuties," said a statement posted on Netflix's account on August 20. "It was neither okay nor representative of that French film that won Sundance awards."
An explanation and the removal of the poster did not clear everything up. By September 3, a Turkish media watch group called for the film to be banned from Netflix in Turkey because of concerns that the film is promoting child exploitation, Reuters reported. Some high-profile, conservative commentators have also taken up the story. They started tweeting that Netflix "cared for" children, arguing that it was "pedophilia soft porn". Former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch asked Netflix to completely remove the film. The allegations made on Netflix also found their way to Doucouré, who told Deadline that she had received countless death threats.
"I received numerous attacks on my character from people who hadn't seen the movie who thought I was actually making a movie that apologizes for hypersexualizing children," Doucouré said.
"I received numerous attacks on my character from people who hadn't seen the movie."
Doucouré received support from celebrities and high profile Twitter users, including Tessa Thompson, who found she was disappointed with Netflix's marketing campaign. Thompson added that she understood people's reaction to the post, "but it doesn't speak for the movie I saw." Again, many of the complaints at the time came from people who hadn't seen the film, while the defense came from people who had seen the film.
As the reviewer of Rolling Stone wrote in his review of the film, "Out of context, the girls' outfits look questionably flashy and trashy. In context, as understand the costumes for a hip-hop dance troupe competing for a grand prize How they work in relation to an overall message that Doucouré is trying to convey. "
Ted Sarandos, Co-CEO of Netflix, called Doucouré to apologize personally for the poster the team created. She is currently working on another project for Netflix and told Deadline that despite the negativity associated with the poster, she had had a lot of conversations with Netflix to avoid this in the future.
A new wave of attacks
The “cancel Netflix” trend picked up again on September 9, alongside the release of Cuties. But contrary to the original controversy a few weeks earlier, online attacks have become far more aggressive and targeted.
The fact that Cuties is streamed on Netflix, a large entertainment company with deep technical roots that is perceived as "liberal" also plays a role. Tech companies with liberal politics are at the center of anger and discourse from right-wing and conservative groups. Netflix's decision to direct a high impact film of this nature easily suits these critics.
Critics were tagged on Twitter and Instagram who rated the film positively and described it as an advertisement for dangerous material. However, this was also a way of mobilizing harassment against these authors. Conservative provocateurs like Steven Crowder and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones devoted videos to calling out the “left media” who praised cuties. Authors and personalities from conservative publications such as The Daily Caller and Breitbart also criticized the film's content.
Actress Evan Rachel Wood posted a number of Instagram stories about the film's exploitation of children. Republican Senator Josh Hawley commented that Netflix "would like to speak to Congress about this" and retweeted a columnist for the Daily Caller. Senator Ted Cruz called Netflix "deeply troubling" with the film. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was bombed and many audience reviews described the film as sick and twisted.
Online attacks have become far more aggressive and targeted
Unfortunately, a marketing effort to promote a coming-of-age movie took on a life of its own beyond Netflix and Doucouré when conspiracy theories of entrenched pedophile rings in Hollywood – a popular theory in QAnon circles – caught the story.
Supporters of QAnon, a group who believe Hollywood is controlled by a cabal of pedophiles, caught the backlash. Tweets with hashtags like #SaveTheChildren – known for its association with the group – started to populate, and soon it was a perfect storm of anger at cuties that had nothing to do with the movie itself.
Not all of the criticism has come from people who openly support QAnon. But the backlash makes Cuties an easy target for QAnon supporters to spread conspiracy theories. The focus has moved away from the actual film due to resurgent backlash, including the purpose and contextual use of certain scenes. But, as one reviewer wrote in his Rolling Stone review, Cuties is not "a massive piece of pedo bait targeting lower instincts rather than better angels."
Along with all of the criticism and backlash that led to the #CancelNetflix trend, Doucouré and Cuties were also supported. Several film critics have tweeted positively about the film and the director alongside their own published reviews. Her words reflect the message that Doucouré has shown in her film: to give the audience the opportunity to experience what it is like to "become a little 11 year old girl in today's society and not judge her", how she told the film website Shadow and Act. Netflix also issued a statement deciphering the criticism and supporting Doucouré's film.
"Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children," a Netflix spokesman told The Verge. "It's an award-winning film and a compelling story of the pressures young girls face on social media and in society in general – and we encourage anyone interested in these important topics to watch it."
The Cuties' message can get lost in the sea of backlash, online anger, and conspiracy theories associated with the film, but Doucouré wanted to tell a story close to her own life. In interviews she has given, she has expressed the hope that people will see the movie before making a decision about whether they think it's good or bad.
"My only message would be that childhood is precious and we must all protect our children," she told Shadow and Act. “We all need to come together to find out what is best for our children, so that we can give our children a nice space to grow up safely and peacefully, so that they can have the freedom to choose who they want to be and who is best Version of yourself. "