Cuties Movie Review: A provocative film susceptible to misinterpretation
To show problematic reality should not be thought of as a problem. If Cuties were a Twitter profile, the director might have used the disclaimer: Depiction is not endorsement.
Even before its premiere on Netflix, Cuties (Mignonnes in French) got bad press for the poster used to promote the movie, which was slammed for sexualising kids. With the film’s release now, while some dissenters might get more enraged, some others may have a change of heart when they notice that it's a film that means well. The curious case of Maïmouna Doucouré’s directorial debut is that it is a film about kids meant for adults. The kids in Cuties dress, speak and behave in ways that most adults won’t approve of. In other words, the kids and adults in the film are simply reflections of the real world and not an exploitative construct of the director. To show problematic reality should not be thought of as a problem. If Cuties were a Twitter profile, the director might have used the disclaimer: Depiction is not endorsement.
Director: Maïmouna Doucouré
Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Maïmouna Gueye
Rating: 4 / 5
Amy (Fathia Youssou), an 11-year-old, her mom, Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye), and two brothers are all immigrants from Senegal settling down in France. As they wait for their father to join them, Amy and her mom begin to make friends. While the mom spends time with neighborhood aunties and grandmas who share her conservatism and Islamic faith, the kid gets fascinated by a rebellious school gang, who call themselves Cuties and want to win a coveted dancing competition. She envies their freedom, their provocative clothes, and captivating dance moves. In the course of trying to become one of the Cuties, Amy starts crossing lines to escape the constraints of her community’s faith.
Cuties can be easily categorised just as a coming-of-age film about a bunch of kids, but under careful examination, the film reveals itself to be mostly about the world of grown-ups in which kids grapple to find themselves. Maïmouna Doucouré uses the kids as a mirror for the adults to see their innate sexism, double standards, and hypocrisy. At one instance, the kids sneak into a laser tag game arena and get caught by two guards. When one guy threatens to call the cops, the other lets them go when Amy shows off her scintillating dance moves and twerks. It’s a lesson to Amy about how to get out of trouble. Later, she again tries to use her body to escape from her cousin whose smartphone she’s caught stealing. The film is replete with such subtle depictions of cause and effect in the world of adults and children.
I found Cuties and the Netflix mini-series Unorthodox to be similar in many accounts. Both have a protagonist trying to break away from their families' faith (Hasidic Judaism in the case of Unorthodox), which is appallingly unfair to women. Both are about ultra-conservative communities living in ultra-modern cities. But the similarity I found most telling is how both protagonists, Amy and Esty (Shira Haas), find their liberation through art. The former discovers it in dance while the latter in music, artforms that give them much-needed spillway to escape their repression. While Esty’s redemption was a mature process, the dam just breaks open as far as the hormonal Amy is concerned. Nevertheless, both eventually arrive at a point where they begin to think for themselves as individual women unshackled by oppressive social constructs.