'Cuties' On Netflix Calls Out The Hypersexualization Of Young Girls The new French film, Cuties, is about an 11-year old Senegalese Muslim girl growing up in Paris and struggling with the contradictions between her strict upbringing and the demands of social media.

'Cuties' Calls Out The Hypersexualization Of Young Girls - And Gets Criticized

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The French film "Cuties" premieres on Netflix later this week. It's being praised for its critique of the hyper-sexualization of young girls and the consequences of that as they grow up in the age of social media. It won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, but it's also being criticized for the very thing it examines. Rebecca Rosman has this report from Paris.

REBECCA ROSMAN: Several years ago, Maimouna Doucoure was at a neighborhood gathering when her jaw dropped. A group of young girls in revealing outfits came out on a stage and performed a choreographed routine. Doucoure says they couldn't have been more than 11 years old.

MAIMOUNA DOUCOURE: They were dancing very sensually, very sexually, and I was very disturbed about what I was seeing.

ROSMAN: But instead of passing judgment, the self-taught writer and filmmaker says she wanted to understand what she was seeing. She dove into research, interviewing more than 100 adolescent girls over the course of a year and a half.

DOUCOURE: It's a period very specific where you are not anymore totally a child, and you are not an adult. You are looking for yourself, and everything is changing very fast.

ROSMAN: Doucoure combines her findings with elements of her own upbringing in her first feature-length film, "Cuties." It's about what it means to be an adolescent girl in the age of TikTok and Instagram, where likes have become the currency of self-esteem, and keeping kids away from anything on the Internet is near impossible.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CUTIES")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

ROSMAN: The film is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Amy, who, like Doucoure, is the daughter of Muslim Senegalese immigrants growing up in northeast Paris. Amy is unimpressed by the traditional path for women laid out by the matriarchs in her family.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CUTIES")

MBISSINE THERESE DIOP: (As La Tante, speaking French).

ROSMAN: As her strict grand-aunt tries to groom her to become a wife and mother, Amy watches her own mom struggle to hide tears when she gets a call from her husband in Senegal. As is tradition for many men there, he's taken a second wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CUTIES")

MAIMOUNA GUEYE: (As Mariam, crying).

ROSMAN: To escape the drama playing out at home, Amy befriends a group of popular girls at school who have formed a dance troupe called Les Mignonnes, or The Cuties. Amy spends hours nailing down choreography to provocative music videos so she can impress her new friends. Filmmaker Maimouna Doucoure says social media adds a layer of complexity to what it means to be an adolescent in 2020.

DOUCOURE: Today, you have that exposition of your body on social media. And you also have this big competition of finding likes and followers. And that is for me a new kind of finding love.

ROSMAN: The film provokes many questions but doesn't provide many answers. And that's the intention, says film critic Jennifer Padjemi, who says it's also important that "Cuties" was made by a woman who comes from the same background and culture as her characters.

JENNIFER PADJEMI: It's really important to have more coming-of-age movies in France in general, and not with only white cast because it's important to represent children of every background because even if we live the same way, we don't have the same control path. And it's really important to see this specific age between childhood and teenagehood (ph). And I hope Maimouna opened the door for other movies like this.

ROSMAN: That door almost didn't open. Even though "Cuties" has received widespread acclaim in France and won a Sundance award, a publicity gaffe from its U.S. distributor, Netflix, almost cost the movie its reputation. After Netflix published a marketing poster showing the Cuties twerking in revealing cheerleading outfits without any context, an online petition calling for the cancellation of the U.S. release received more than 140,000 signatures.

Doucoure was accused on social media of being a pedophile and even received death threats. She says she hopes those who signed the petition will watch the film.

DOUCOURE: And after that, they will see that we have the same fight, and we are all together about that issue of hyper-sexualization of our children and protect our children.

ROSMAN: In the end, Maimouna Doucoure says her film is about a choice.

DOUCOURE: It's a choice that who we want to become, who we want to really become. And as a child, take the time to be a child and keep that innocence to grow up in our society.

ROSMAN: For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Paris.

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