Kids, Cuties, and the Last Temptation of Movies
Cuties has caused an uproar in certain political parties who want it banned and are calling for investigations claiming Netflix engaged in child sex trafficking, but are these claims warranted or even valid? Our review answers those questions and more.
It’s not often I feel the need to defend a movie. Defending a movie isn’t my job, it’s the job of the studios, the director, the writers, the actors, and other people involved in the creation of a movie. However, a movie comes along once in a while in need of a few defenders to drown out the voices of the moral outrage brigade. The movie in question, until another one comes around, is the recent Netflix release Cuties.
Amy, the main character in Cuties, is a girl caught between two worlds. In one world she is the daughter of Senegalese, Muslim immigrants. Her world is restricted to what women can and cannot do. In one of the opening scenes we see Amy in a prayer group with other women. The prayer leader, a woman called Auntie, tells the women that their job is to be subservient to their husbands.
Later, Auntie is happy when Amy has her first menstrual cycle because it means she’s ready to be married. To Westerners, the idea of marrying an eleven-year old to an adult may seem wrong and even akin to rape. The idea of a child bride is not what drew the ire of so many social media users. However, it does illustrate the repressive environment Amy is in while she is home.
When she’s at school Amy is in another world altogether. The strict confines of her home and religion are absent. It’s a school that seems devoid of teachers or any adult authority figures. The kids are running the show. In this world Amy discovers a group of girls who are the exact opposite of what she is used to seeing at home.
These girls are bullies. They’re brats. They act self-entitled and have no respect for anyone or anything. The first time Coumba, one of the girls, sees Amy she hits her in the head with a rock. It’s a proud moment for the girls to relive as they taunt Amy at school. Yet, Amy is still drawn towards their rebellious nature and their dance routine. Once she’s in their dance group Amy’s entire attitude changes.
DANCING IS IMMORAL
It’s the dancing in Cuties many people are fuming over. What these people do not understand, because they have not watched the movie, is the world these girls are growing up in. These girls are growing up in a TikTok, wannabe Hip Hop world. Unfortunately, these girls emulate everything they see in music videos and on social media platforms. One of those things is the dancing they watch in rap videos.
Is the dancing in Cuties provocative? Seen through the wrong eyes the answer is “yes.” Again, these are moves the girls learned watching music videos. Amy studies the moves on a stolen cell phone while pretending to pray under her prayer shawl. She locks herself in the bathroom to practice the moves in the bathroom mirror. Amy wants to be like the dancers in the video.
While there is no nudity of minors in the movie (that would be illegal in most countries), no close up of any of the girls’ crotch areas, and no men leer lecherously at the girls dancing to avoid being arrested, the camera does linger on the girls a few moments longer than some people are comfortable seeing. However, the uncomfortable feeling is intentional and it comes into play at the end of the movie.
In 1995, like in 2020, people were overreacting to another movie about children. The general public, many who never saw the movie, were clutching the proverbial pearls over the content found in Larry Clark’s Kids.
Kids is an unabashed look at a group of teens as they wander the streets of Manhattan, smoke, drink, do drugs, and having unprotected sex all over the course of one day. It’s not all consensual sex in Kids. At least two teenagers are raped in the movie. It was rough stuff for some people to handle.
Like the kids in Cuties, Telly, Caspar, Jennie, Ruby, and the other teenagers are free to do whatever they want. A lack of any authority figure is missing in these teenagers’s lives. They are free to do whatever they want to do. No one is holding them accountable. Their actions have unforeseen consequences that will affect some of them for the rest their lives.
Jennie (Chloë Sevigny), unfortunately, learns too late what the trajectory her life choices have taken her. Early in the movie she’s diagnosed with HIV. We see her ride the bus watching people walk the same streets she’s walked before and look at kids passed out on the same streets she’s probably woken up on more than once. She’s possibly thinking about what has happened and what her life will be like with a diagnosis that in the 90’s was almost a death sentence. What would Jennie have done differently if she had a second chance?
Amy steals, cheats, lies and commits assault so she can be in the dance group. The dance competition is what they’ve been practicing for the entire movie. At the time she cannot see, or does not want to see, what damage her choices are causing or where these choices will take her if she continues down the same path. However, everything comes crashing down on Amy at the dance competition.
Their routine is shocking to everyone. The judges, who we assume have judged other dance competitions, are put off by the girls’ routine. Mothers are covering their children’s eyes. The audience is aghast at what the girls are doing on stage. When Amy looks into the audience she sees the looks on their faces. No one is cheering for her. Whatever she thought she was going to feel or accomplish doe not materialize. What happens is Amy finally realizes what she has done is wrong.
Amy, unlike Jennie, gets a second chance. At the end of the movie, with her makeup removed and in normal clothes, she’s back with her family. The movie ends with Amy jumping rope, like any other young girl, with friends. She jumps higher and higher as the camera follows her upwards. It’s as if she will reach the sky with a smile on her face.
We live in a time where the picket sign has been replaced with tweets and Facebook posts. Anyone, even fake accounts and bots, can post negative comments threatening to ban or cancel something that does not fit in their comfortable world view. A movie like Cuties is so far out of most people’s comfort zone their first reaction is to retaliate against it.
Humans have always retaliated against what it fears and what it does not understand. Why should a movie that poses challenges be immune from such fear or backlash? It may say more about the people seeing pedophilia and child exploitation where there is none than what it says about the movie. The movie is only holding a mirror up to a society that permits things like child beauty pageants to occur.
Watching Cuties will no more make you a pedophile than watching Friday the 13th will make you a mass murderer or watching an Adam Sandler movie will make you a comedian. Watching Cuties does not mean you condone pedophilia no more than binge watching the Investigation Discovery channel means you condone murder or watching an Adam Sandler movie means you condone his comedic output.