“Cuties”: Misplaced Rage

The film “Cuties”, a self-described “coming of age film”, which according to the director, criticizes the hyper-sexualization of adolescent girls, is being widely criticized for promoting the exact culture it is claiming to demonize. Regardless of personal interpretations of the film, let’s use the current hurricane of media attention (and political opportunism) to jump start a bigger and much more important conversation.

“Cuties” itself isn’t the problem, but the irresponsible marketing powers-that-be at Netflix. “Cuties” isn’t about sexualizing children and it isn’t about adults abusing children. It’s about a young girl being raised in a very traditional family. Like many adolescents, she is struggling to find her voice and aspires to be more like her friends who have greater freedoms. If Netflix had simply replicated the French advertisement to promote the film, there may be fewer assumptions, less controversy and more willingness to watch the movie in its entirety in order to truly understand its message. Instead, Netflix represented every opportunistic media outlet the film’s director set to call out. There was little social responsibility and blatant negligence to the female director’s creative intent. If I were her, I would be outraged.

Let’s for a moment, take Netflix out of the equation (it certainly did not hesitate to take the original message of “Cuties” out of the equation—so, we’re even). Instead, we will collectively seize the opportunity to transform the hysteria into a conversation about the real problem.

The poster itself depicts pre-teen girls scantily clad in dance outfits. Ironically, these are outfits similar to those worn in dance and cheer competitions across the United States EVERY SINGLE DAY. So what’s different? Why the outrage now? Especially for a fictional film?

Take a look at the description Netflix wrote for the promotional material. The now deleted description says, Amy (the main character) “becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew”. This in no way reflects the content of the film, let alone its purpose. It was the equivalent of click bait…and everyone bit. That description, combined with the image of over-sexualized young actresses (which by the way, was not the same promotional image of the girls used in France), was essentially false advertising. Netflix’s decision to market the film in this way is exactly the kind of cultural and societal female degradation Maimouna Docucoure was hoping to expose. I guess she didn’t need to spend her time or money on producing an entire film, a digital streaming giant more interested in shock value than human value proved to be enough.

What’s done is done. We can continue to share our outrage on social media, use the hashtag #cancelNetflix (which we all know no one is really doing), or we can embrace this as an opportunity to have a much larger, in depth conversation about the safety of our children and how their vulnerabilities are taken advantage of in countless ways.

Do not fear Netflix, fear these numbers. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children five children a day die from child abuse in America and 70% of those are under age 3. 80% of those fatalities involved a parent. RAINN estimates one in 9 girls and 1 and 53 boys under 18 are sexually abused by an adult.
93% of victims know their perpetrators. It’s not “boogeymen” lurking behind dark alleys. These are the very adults tasked with caring and protecting these children.

“Cuties” has also ignited more salacious conspiracy theories around child sex trafficking that have been making the rounds on the Internet and Social Media sites for years. Stop your Facebook scroll and let me present you with the facts: Of the more than 23,500 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2019, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking with the average age being just 15 years old. And if you think, not in my back yard, think again. It’s happening in all 50 States.

So what does cancelling Netflix have to do with child abuse? In a word, nothing. But the overwhelming anger makes people want to act. Real action is not cancelling a service that does have plenty of enriching, educational and hilarious entertainment but got a little too greedy and a little too careless promoting this particular film.

First and foremost, make sure you are getting accurate information from a reliable source; not a hashtag. There are great resources out there like RAINN and NCMEC. Second, be aware of what is going on in your own community. If we all keep a watchful eye in our own “backyards” instead of on your Facebook feed. It is at home you can make a REAL IMPACT.
Engage with neighbors. Keep an eye on the kids who live in your area. Look for signs of abuse. They can be subtle so trust your instinct. If something seems off, it probably is. Click here to learn more about how to recognize if a child is suffering or in danger. (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/identifying/).

Learn about signs of child abuse

Learn More→

The outrage over Netflix’s promotion material can distract us from the fact that children are being abused and taken advantage of every single day. Young girls are being depicted not as children, but as mini-women who have neither the bodies, minds nor esteem, mature enough to make rational and healthy decisions based on false or misleading representations in the media. If you suspect any of the above forms of abuse you have a simple solution right at your fingertips, and it’s not regurgitating a hashtag. Call your local police or 1-800-4-A CHILD to report abuse.

Instead of taking to social media to express outrage over Netflix or “Cuties” take REAL action and help save lives in your community.

Here are some signs children are being physically abused: (Childwelfare.gov)
  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Behavior that is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or too responsible
  • Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
Child neglect can present as follows: (Childwelfare.gov)
  • Frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks needed medical care (including immunizations), dental care, or glasses
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather; Abuses alcohol or other drugs; States that there is no one at home to provide care
Signs of sexual abuse it’s the following (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, 2014; Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network [RAINN], 2018a)
  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Experiences bleeding, bruising, or swelling in their private parts
  • Suddenly refuses to go to school
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a sexually transmitted disease, particularly if under age 14 Runs away Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment
Trafficking: (NCMEC)
  • Child has multiple cell phones and/or electronic devices
  • Child has large amounts of cash or pre-paid credit cards
  • Child has no ID, or ID is held by another person
  • Multiple children are present with an unrelated male or female
  • There is evidence the child has been or will be traveling (child is living out of suitcases, at motels, or in a car)
  • Child has a name or symbol tattooed, burned, or branded onto his or her body, particularly when coupled with the child’s reluctance to explain the tattoo, the child’s tattoo matches other children’s tattoos, the tattoo indicates money or ownership (ex. MOB, barcode or $)
  • Child references traveling to other cities or states or is not from the current location
  • The child may also lack knowledge of his or her travel plans, destinations, and/or his or her current location
  • Child has hotel keys, hotel receipts, or other items from a hotel/motel; Presence of an overly controlling or abusive “boyfriend” or older female