The firestorm over controversial Netflix film “Cuties,” which led to a huge spike in U.S. customer cancellations following its debut earlier this month, burned out after a few days, according to new data.
“Cuties” tells the story of an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who struggles to find her identity, torn between her family’s Muslim traditions and her peer group’s attempts to emulate the sexualized personae of women as portrayed in Western culture and on social media. The film includes scenes of the protagonist, Amy, performing highly sexualized dance routines with the Cuties dance crew and shows the underage characters in other adult situations — and, predictably, a backlash ensued. That caused the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” to trend on Twitter following its Sept. 9 release worldwide on the streaming service.
But while there was a temporary escalation in cancellations, the Netflix churn rate in the U.S. died down within a week after the social-media uproar, according to research firm 7Park Data. The data indicates the overall impact on the streamer’s subscriber base has not been material.
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In the days following Netflix’s release of “Cuties,” account cancellations hit a peak of about five times the churn rate of Jan. 1, 2019, a 7Park Data analysis found. After about a week (by Sept. 18) the cancellations had subsided to previous levels, per 7Park. As previously reported, data from research firm YipitData showed that Netflix cancellations on Sept. 12 soared to about eight times higher than the average daily rate in August 2020 (which was a different baseline than 7Park used).
Netflix U.S. Cancellation Trends (Jan. 2019-Sept. 2020)
Source: 7Park Data
The Netflix cancellations in the U.S. were concentrated in central and southern parts of the country (and also overindexed in Maine and Alaska), according to 7Park Data.
Netflix Cancellation Index by U.S. State (Sept. 10-13)
Source: 7Park Data
New York-based 7Park Data tracks consumer behavior across multiple industry sectors, including streaming services. To measure activity among Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu subscribers, the research firm uses a census-balanced panel of 15,000-25,000 U.S. households watching via internet-connected TV (either smart TVs or devices such as Roku).
Netflix has defended “Cuties,” written and directed by French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, calling it a “powerful story.” The production had a counselor on set and the project had received approval from the French government’s child-protection authorities, as noted by the Washington Post.
“‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a company rep said in a statement earlier this month. “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.”
Doucouré has repeatedly said that the purpose of her film — quite the opposite of promoting a view of children as sexual subjects — is to show the world through the eyes of young girls and shine a spotlight on the problem of social media encouraging children to assume hyper-sexualized identities.
“We need to protect our children. What I want to [do] is to open people’s eyes on this issue and try to fix it,” Doucouré said, speaking at a Sept. 14 event hosted by UniFrance. “The most important [thing] is to watch the film and understand we have the same fight.”
“Cuties” raised hackles a month before it was even released over Netflix’s promotional poster showing the young dancers in provocative poses. The company apologized for the “inappropriate artwork” and said it was not representative of the film. “The controversy started with that artwork,” Doucouré said on the UniFrance panel.
On Netflix, the movie is rated “TV-MA” (for mature audiences only). The film’s critics have included Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), both of whom labeled the film “child porn.” (Cruz also urged the Justice Department to investigate Netflix.) In addition, the film has drawn condemnation from groups including the Parents Television Council, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Cuties” (original title: “Mignonnes”) premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where Doucouré won the world cinema dramatic directing award. Netflix bought worldwide rights (excluding France) to “Cuties” prior to its Sundance screening.