UniFrance, the French film promotion organization, released a letter on Friday supporting Maimouna Doucouré, the helmer of Netflix film “Cuties,” which has been the subject of a backlash on social media for allegedly “sexualizing” young girls.
UniFrance, which also gave its support for the movie’s producer, Zangro and Paris-based distributor Bac Films, is the latest French film body to side with Doucouré. Earlier this week, the country’s authors, directors and producers guild, La Société Civile des Auteurs Réalisateurs et Producteurs, known as ARP, said calls for the film’s boycott are a “grave attack on freedom of creation,” carried out by the “most conservative of Americans.”
For UniFrance, the “call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalog, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas.”
“Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a Presidential election campaign in full swing,” said the letter.
UniFrance said they were committed “to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression” to allow cinema “to reach beyond borders and boundaries, and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies.”
“‘Cuties’ appeals to our sense of discernment, be that on an individual or a collective level, and calls on us to assume our responsibilities,” said the French film org.
UniFrance said it was important to ensure that Doucouré could promote her film around the world and speak freely without running the risk of receiving threats.”
A campaign waged against Netflix over “Cuties” and the film’s allegedly sexualized portrayal of children produced a surge in cancellations of Netflix subscriptions in the U.S. last weekend, according to research company YipitData, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations out of Washington, D.C. is the latest org to call on the streaming giant to pull the film due to, it claims, a stereotypical portrayal of Muslims.
“Cuties” follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who joins a “free-spirited dance crew” (called “The Cuties”) to rebel against what she perceives as her Muslim family’s oppressive traditions. In the film, the conflicted protagonist, Amy, and The Cuties perform dance routines to suggestive choreography.
The backlash started last month, when Netflix unveiled a poster for the film that depicted the central characters wearing revealing dance outfits and posing provocatively. Netflix, which bought the film out of the Sundance Film Festival, apologized and withdrew the artwork. But the film itself has also been attacked for going over the line in portraying children in a sexualized manner.
Speaking on Monday as part of a virtual 10 Talents to Watch panel hosted by French promotion organization UniFrance, Doucouré said the she didn’t expect that level of criticism since the film was applauded at its Sundance debut in January, and that she’s fighting “the same fight” as her critics.
UniFrance organizes events in the U.S. throughout the year, notably the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, in partnership with the Film at Lincoln Center.
A critically acclaimed young director, Doucouré previously helmed the short film “Maman(s),” which in 2016 won Sundance’s short film jury prize for international fiction and the Cesar award for best short film. Earlier this year, Doucouré received the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, a prize given as part of the Academy Women’s Initiative.
The movie was released in French theaters by Bac Films on Aug. 19.