The artwork for the French-language film depicted four adolescent girls wearing revealing dance outfits and posting provocatively, drawing backlash on social media for “sexualizing” little girls.
The Parents Television Council implored Netflix to remove the film, rated M, from its site.
“It is so revealing that the first major @netflix original to centre young Black girls hinges on explicitly sexualising 11 year old children,” Twitter user Claire Heuchan tweeted. “Whether it’s acting or music, a sexualised image is too often the price of mainstream success for Black women & girls. Disgraceful.”
“Netflix has a movie called ‘Cuties’ about 11 year olds in a twerking dance group. Some of the reviews claim it’s a ‘commentary’ on the sexualization of children but this is the poster,” another user, Matt Walsh, wrote. “And keep in mind that the lead actress is actually 11 years old. In the film and real life.”
“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for ‘Mignonnes’/’Cuties,'” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Variety. “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”
“Cuties” won the world cinema dramatic directing award at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film follows 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant Amy (Fathia Youssouf), who upsets her Muslim mother by opting to join the “Cuties,” a quartet of scantily-dressed girls who rehearse dances after school. Maïmouna Gueye plays Amy’s mom. With three kids and her husband bringing home a second wife, she has her plate full.
The film, directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, currently has an 82% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Netflix recently began promoting the movie ahead of its release on the platform on Sept. 9.
Amy Nicholson gave “Cuties” a positive review for Variety at Sundance: “Newcomer Youssouf has an anchoring presence. Occasionally, Doucouré lets her light up the screen with a smile, and at the director’s most expressionistic, the girl floats.”
The movie just opened in French theaters on Aug. 19 and is being distributed by Bac Films. In an interview with the film website Cineuropa, Doucouré said “Cuties” delivered an “uncompromising portrait of an 11-year-old girl plunged in a world that imposes a series of dictates on her.”
“During my research (for ‘Cuties’), I saw that all these young girls I’d met were very exposed on social media. And with new social codes, the ways of presenting yourself change,” Doucouré said.
A critically acclaimed young director, Doucouré previously helmed the short film “Maman(s)” which won Sundance’s jury prize 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.