“Cuties” filmmaker Maimouna Doucouré says that Netflix’s initial marketing campaign opened up the film to a level of criticism that it didn’t receive after its Sundance Film Festival debut in January, and that she’s fighting “the same fight” as her critics.
Speaking on Monday as part of a virtual 10 Talents to Watch panel hosted by French promotion organization UniFrance, Doucouré highlighted the streaming giant’s early artwork, which depicted the film’s central characters wearing revealing dance outfits and posing provocatively. Netflix, which bought the film out of Sundance, apologized and withdrew the artwork.
Doucouré said, “The controversy started with that artwork… The most important [thing] is to watch the film and understand we have the same fight,” said Doucouré, responding to criticism that the film goes over the line in portraying children in a sexualized manner.
“Cuties” tells the story of an 11-year-old Senegalese girl in Paris who joins a dance group to escape family dysfunction. Scenes featuring its young protagonists dancing to suggestive choreography have received extensive backlash.
After the 96-minute film premiered Sept. 9 on the streaming platform, the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” began trending on Twitter in the U.S. and a Change.org petition was set up, calling on Netflix customers to cancel their subscriptions. The petition has so far garnered more than 647,000 signatures. It has also drawn condemnation from conservative American political figures including Ted Cruz.
Doucouré, who won the world cinema dramatic directing award at Sundance with “Cuties,” rejected the idea that her film was being attacked due to cultural differences between American and European audiences.
“I thought the film would be accepted. It played to Sundance and was watched by American people there; I met the public there and they really saw that the film is about a universal issue,” said Doucouré. “It’s not about French society — the hyper-sexualization of children happens through social media and social media is everywhere. People [at Sundance] agreed with that.”
“We need to protect our children. What I want to is to open people’s eyes on this issue and try to fix it,” said the filmmaker, adding that it’s “important and necessary to create a debate and find solutions as filmmakers, politicians, and within the educational system.”
A critically acclaimed young director, Doucouré previously helmed the short film “Maman(s),” which in 2016 won Sundance’s short film jury prize for international fiction and the Cesar award for best short film. Earlier this year, Doucouré received the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, a prize given as part of the Academy Women’s Initiative.
The movie was released in French theaters by Bac Films on Aug. 19.
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