‘Cuties’ Financier Argues ‘Ultra-Conservatism’ Is Threatening ‘Freedom of Expression’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix - Cuties
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix’s “Cuties” may be receiving a torrent of backlash out of North America, but France’s film industry is standing in support of Maimouna Doucouré’s feature debut. On Tuesday, 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 on by the “most conservative of Americans.”

A campaign waged against Netflix over “Cuties” and the film’s sexualized portrayal of children produced a surge in U.S. subscription cancellations over the 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.

Speaking exclusively to Variety, French financier and executive David Grumbach, CEO of Bac Films, which distributed the film, argues that criticism of “Cuties” represents a threat to freedom of expression.

Bac Films sold “Cuties” to Netflix based only on the script and promo, and the movie went on to world premiere at Sundance, where it earned Doucouré the world cinema dramatic directing award. For Grumbach, supporting the director at this time is crucial for the whole industry and represents a duty to “protect artists in France, in Hollywood and everywhere else.”

Read on for Variety’s full interview with Grumbach.

In hindsight, considering all the backlash that “Cuties” has been courting since Netflix released the film, do you think it was the right platform to handle this film?

Absolutely. We wanted “Cuties” to have the largest platform possible to maximize its impact and raise awareness of the issue of hyper-sexualization of children. Netflix also seemed right because “Cuties” is a film meant for a large audience, and even though it tackles a difficult topic, it’s still accessible for everyone — maybe not for children, but teenagers and adults. Surely, what we see in the film is nowhere near what we see on social media, including on TikTok. It’s important to highlight the cracks in our society. And we should agree to disagree in order to discuss and bring about some change!

What was your reaction when the backlash started?

It’s scandalous to accuse us of promoting child pornography. I’ve been astonished by the amount of fake news that’s been spread about this film. We didn’t expect the film would get used by politicians in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.

Given the suggestive nature of some scenes, do you think there should be some kind of warning before the start of the film?

In France, the film was released on Aug. 19 without any restrictions and was considered suitable for all audiences. It triggered some debate, but not any backlash. We received unanimous praise in the local press, from L’Humanité to Le Figaro, Telerama and Le Monde. We want people to watch the film and realize it’s about many issues: It’s about being Black and living in France, in a society dominated by white people; it’s about being a woman; it’s about the identity conflict that a child can feel between a traditional, conservative upbringing and everyday life at school. Twerking is a small part of the movie. (The film is rated TV MA — Mature Audiences by Netflix in the U.S.).

Why do you think it’s an issue of cultural differences and sensibilities between Europeans and Americans?

I think the protests are coming from the right wing — from a fringe of ultra conservatism. But we’re grateful that Netflix [kept] the film [on its platform] and has supported it despite everything. We must be strong and united to protect the freedom of filmmakers. It’s not just for France, but also for Hollywood. Think about Jodie Foster who was 12 when she played a prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” or the movie “Little Miss Sunshine,” or the countless other movies that would have been boycotted if we caved to this kind of conservatism. We wouldn’t be able to make movies about abortion, violence, etc. because to denounce something, you need to show it.

What do you hope will emerge from this controversy?

We make films to raise awareness on current issues and we intend to continue. Films can make an impact and create change and we hope “Cuties” will lead lawmakers to step up to the plate and find solutions. I hope that Maimouna’s name will be cleared from these accusations, and that ultimately this debate will encourage politicians around the world to make crucial laws that strengthen the protection of our children everywhere.