‘Cuties’ Sparks a Firestorm, Again, After Its Netflix Release

Netflix is facing renewed backlash from subscribers and members of Congress after it released the award-winning French film “Cuties” on its platform this week.

Some senators are even calling for an investigation into the movie, which has been criticized for sexualizing young girls.

Here’s what we know about the movie.

The film, which was released as “Mignonnes” in France and won a directing award from the Sundance Institute in February, follows an 11-year-old girl named Amy (Fathia Youssouf) as she tries to find her place growing up in a poor suburb of Paris. At home, Amy has to please her family, who are observant Muslims from Senegal, but she eventually falls in with a group of friends who have their own dance troupe in defiance of her family’s strict rules.

Maïmouna Doucouré, the film’s director, said in an interview with Netflix that the movie incorporated elements of her own childhood in its portrayal of Amy’s struggles between two distinct modes of femininity: one dictated by the traditional values of her Senegalese and Muslim upbringing, the other by Western society.

“I recreated the little girl who I was at that age,” she said. “Growing up in two cultures is what gave me the strength and the values I have today.”

“As a child, that question of how to become a woman was my obsession,” she added.

Ms. Doucouré has said that the idea for the film came to her after she attended a neighborhood gathering in Paris where she saw a group of 11-year-olds performing a “very sexual, very sensual” dance. She said she spent a year and a half doing research and meeting with hundreds of preteens to prepare for the film.

“I needed to know how they felt about their own femininity in today’s society and how they dealt with their self-image at a time when social media is so important,” she told Netflix.

The more sexualized a woman appears on social media, the more girls will perceive her as successful, Ms. Doucouré said.

“Children just imitate what they see to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning,” she said. “And yeah, it’s dangerous.”

In France, where the film was released in theaters on Aug. 19, “Cuties” did not stir much controversy.

But in the United States, the hashtag #CancelNetflix has trended on Twitter, with parents, politicians and conspiracy theorists calling to remove the film or even get the Department of Justice involved. Last month, Netflix apologized for the artwork it created to market “Cuties” to streaming audiences after many criticized it for inappropriately sexualizing the film’s young stars.

An IMDb parents’ guide rates the film’s sex and nudity as “severe.” Several scenes show young girls dancing suggestively in short outfits.

Calls to remove the film have been amplified by supporters of a conspiracy theory that top Democrats and celebrities are behind a global child trafficking ring.

Reviewers at the Sundance Film Festival didn’t find the film exploitive. “The sight of twerking preteen bodies is explicitly designed to shock mature audiences into a contemplation of today’s destruction of innocence,” the film critic Fionnuala Halligan wrote in Screen Daily.

A spokeswoman for Netflix said in a statement that the film was “a social commentary against the sexualization of young children.”

“It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

Several members of Congress have called for the film to be removed from Netflix or for a formal investigation.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, sent a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday asking the Justice Department to investigate whether Netflix, the company’s executives or the filmmakers violated federal laws “against the production and distribution of child pornography.”

Similarly, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, called on the Justice Department to “take swift action.”

“Like any parent, I find ⁦@netflix⁩ decision to peddle child pornography disgusting,” Mr. Cotton said on Twitter on Saturday. “And it’s criminal.”

But like many of the film’s detractors, Mr. Cruz has not seen “Cuties,” according to a spokeswoman.

“Of course he has not watched a movie that sexualizes and fetishes young girls,” she said in a statement on Saturday. “The content has been widely reported and is not in dispute. There should be absolutely no place for the filming and distribution of these scenes — regardless of the purported objective of the filmmaker.”

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said on Twitter on Friday that the film “will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

“Netflix, you are now complicit,” Ms. Gabbard wrote.

Representatives for Mr. Cotton and Ms. Gabbard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday, and it was not clear whether either had seen the film.

Alex Marshall contributed reporting.

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