Less than one week after a Texas grand jury indicted Netflix over its distribution of the controversial coming-of-age film Cuties, the company’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos has hit back at what he calls a discussion of “censoring storytelling.”
The film, a feature debut from Maïmouna Doucouré, follows an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant, Amy, as she attends her new school and befriends a dance group called the “Cuties.” As her family life becomes more stressful, Amy begins to teach the group racier and racier moves—all of which are at odds with her traditional upbringing.
Netflix first promoted the film with an image of the girls in their dance uniforms—one that, out of context, does not convey the film’s investment in deconstructing and interrogating the sexualization of young girls. Netflix apologized for the misrepresentation, but by then the damage was done: Reactionaries on social media, particularly those on the right, have led a revolt against the film ever since.
At Mipcom entertainment market on Monday, Sarandos said, “It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling,” Deadline reports.
“It’s a film that is very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States,” Sarandos added. “The film speaks for itself. It’s a very personal coming of age film, it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy.”
Cuties earned the world cinema dramatic directing award when it debuted at Sundance in January. But after Netflix’s marketing fiasco, the film’s debut on the platform in September drew a #CancelNetflix campaign. (Cancellations did spike in response to the campaign, but only briefly.)
The Texas indictment claims that Cuties violates state law, per which it is illegal to “knowingly promote visual material that depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex and has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast at the time of the indictment, a representative for Netflix said, “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
Speaking about the controversy last month, Doucouré rejected the notion that Cuties’ explosive debut in the United States comes down to cultural differences.
“I thought the film would be accepted,” the director said at a virtual 10 Talents to Watch panel, per Variety. “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… 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,” Doucouré added. “What I want to is to open people’s eyes on this issue and try to fix it.”