HOT TAKE: Netflix’s Cuties

Andrew Gay thinks you should take a close look at Cuties.

The recent Netflix film about tween girls who perform in a provocative dance group has attracted wide criticism, especially from conservative voices. The controversy been aggravated by the original promotional images for Cuties, which framed the film as more exploitative and sexualized than it actually is.

But Gay says that those critiques sidestep the authentic issues around culture and objectification raised by director Maïmouna Doucouré.

“Doucouré’s critics rarely mention that the film was written and directed by a woman of color,” said Gay. “The story is partially autobiographical, and also grounded in the filmmaker’s extensive interviews with young girls.”

Photo of four tween girls making kiss gesture for camera
Maïmouna Doucouré’s Netflix film Cuties relies on autobiography and interviewing to form a complex picture of life for contemporary girls

According to Gay, clips circulating across the Internet frequently take scenes out of context, including one in which 11-year-old girls perform a twerking routine for a large public audience.

That scene is the film’s climax, and cut from the clip is what happens next (spoiler alert): in the middle of their awkwardly adult routine, and as adults in the audience react with disgust and disapproval, the film’s protagonist has a panic attack, breaks into tears, and flees the stage.

“Amy runs home into her mother’s arms, a cathartic recognition that her adult play-acting has taken her too far from her true self,” Gay said. “Indeed, the film’s closing image celebrates her embrace of childhood innocence.”

He also noted that a mental health counselor was on set at all times to help work with the young cast as they developed their complex performances.

In the 1970s, feminist scholar Laura Mulvey first formulated the theory of the “male gaze” in cinema. She proposed that most popular films present women as passive objects of an active male gaze, and that these films force their audiences into the position of an oppressive masculine viewer. Mulvey also sought to articulate how films might be made that resist the logic of the male gaze.

“When a male filmmaker sexualizes women or girls through the gaze, everything about shot design, lighting and editing work together to gratify heterosexual male desire,” said Gay. “None of Doucouré’s images are constructed this way. Instead, they produce discomfort, embarrassment, and sadness, because that’s how she wants us to feel about girls who try to be women too soon.”

In the end, Cuties stands as an important document of the politics of looking, and one which aligns with instruction in SOU courses in our Digital Cinema curriculum, including as DCIN 201 — Film Analysis and COMM460E — Visual Communication.

As we embark on a Fall term unlike any other, Communication and Digital Cinema faculty at Southern Oregon University are sharing weekly Hot Takes of things we are reading, watching and doing that get us excited to get back in the (virtual) classroom. Stay connected with whatever got you to this post, and we’ll look forward to bringing you more communications about Communication soon.

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