Real-world consequences for Netflix
Entertainment | Cuties angers customers … and Congress
by Megan Basham
Posted 9/15/20, 08:15 pm
When Netflix apologized last month for its promotional artwork for Cuties, a French film about a group of 11-year-old girls who perform sexually suggestive dance moves, it assured subscribers the poster did not accurately represent the movie’s content. Now that the movie, rated TV-MA, has debuted, many feel artwork did represent the film, and the content itself is even worse.
While on the surface the plot functions as a cautionary tale against exposing children to the hypersexualized culture of social media, frequent gratuitous imagery and dialogue make the underage actresses a part of that pornography. The film not only features multiple, extended tight shots of the girls’ bodies, but it also shows them making movements and facial expressions commonly associated with explicit sex scenes. If writer-director Maimouna Doucouré, who describes the film as feminist, did not find the partly autobiographical film disturbing, someone within Netflix with a more removed perspective certainly should have.
As a shocking clip of one of the movie’s dance routines began circulating on social media on Thursday morning, the hashtag #CancelNetflix quickly climbed to the top of Twitter’s trending rankings. More than 675,000 people had signed a petition demanding Netflix remove it as of Tuesday. After a few days of letting the controversy drag on with little comment beyond a statement that urged critics to “watch the movie,” the company started to experience more substantial fallout than angry tweets.
Netflix’s opening stock price on Monday was down nearly $50 from its daily average the week before the film hit the platform, despite an overall market rally. YipitData, a research firm that provides data to investors, told Fox Business that the number of Netflix users who have chosen not to renew their subscriptions increased dramatically since Cuties debuted on Sept. 9, and they expect that number to rise.
The company’s stock recovered some of its loss on Tuesday. But the financial hit could become much more serious if the Department of Justice decides to heed calls to investigate.
Some major media outlets, including New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Slate, characterized public outcry over the movie, which won a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival, as right-wing. “I doubt that the scandal-mongers (who include some well-known figures of the far-right) have actually seen Cuties,” wrote New Yorker critic Richard Brody, “It’s the story of a girl’s outrage at, and defiance of, a patriarchal order. … It’s enough to give a right-winger a conniption.”
It’s true Republican lawmakers have been especially outspoken in their criticism of the film. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri called on Netflix to explain its decision to Congress, while Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana asked Attorney General William Barr to consider child pornography charges.
But Republicans are not alone in their concern. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a former Democratic presidential candidate, joined the outrage, tweeting, “Netflix child porn Cuties will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade. 1 in 4 victims of trafficking are children. It happened to my friend’s 13-year-old daughter. Netflix, you are now complicit.”
Attorney Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a former assistant district attorney in San Francisco, echoed Gabbard’s concerns. “Cuties hypersexualizes girls my daughter’s age no doubt to the delight of pedophiles like the ones I prosecuted,” she tweeted,
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, told me it makes him sad that so many news stories frame the problem as a left-right conflict. “Condemning child sexual exploitation should be one of the easiest issues in the history of mankind for us all to agree on,” he said. But he puts the blame more on the press than politicians: “I think you have an increasing number of ‘journalists’ who see everything as a political debate, even when there isn’t one. As the saying goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Read more Muse Sign up for the Muse email
Megan is film and television editor for WORLD and co-host for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All. Megan resides with her husband, Brian Basham, and their two daughters in Charlotte, N.C. Follow her on Twitter on @megbasham.