Ugh.

Boy, was that movie tough to sit through. The entire experience was akin to fidgeting on a chair of spikes.

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I am, of course, referring to Netflix’s Cuties, the movie that is trending because of its unorthodox portrayal of minor sexploitation. Both sides of the political aisle are up in arms about the (supposedly) looming normalization of pedophilia. I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but no pundit, whatever their leaning, will offer a fair, unbiased review of this piece. They’re more interested in scoring clout points and views.

Yes, this movie was cringe. Yes, this movie will make you uncomfortable because of the pubescent characters and their whimsically-naive approach to sex. It took me not one, not two, but THREE tries to sit through this until the credits rolled. But hey, if sexualization of minors makes you fidget in your seat, it was probably acheiving its purpose.

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That’s why it confuses me when I hear a pundit or YouTuber state that this propagates pedophilia and even pushes for its societal acceptance. Upon watching this film, I can conclude that these pundits are either A) Dishonest or B) Did not watch the film in its entirety.

If you pay attention, you can see the signs that the main character’s trials are self-destructive and detrimental to her well-being. It’s not the movie that we want, but it’s the movie we need.

Cuties. Netflix. 2020.

Cuties follows the experiences of Amy, a Senegalese immigrant living in Paris, who is going though puberty. Her father is conspicuously absent throughout the film (he practices polygamy and is entering a second mariage in Senegal). Amy’s mother and great-aunt are trying to teach her religious values, how to be proper, cook/clean, etc. Basically, how to become a “real woman.”

Her insular surroundings are shattered one day when she steals a smartphone and gains the means of putting herself online and in the eyes of strangers. She also makes an acquaintance with a group of pre-teen dancers, led by Angelica. Angelica lives in the same apartment Amy does and, like her, she also has an uninvolved father (only heard off-screen). Not a single father is visually shown throughout this movie.

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The reality is, if girls are not given fatherly guidance at home, their self-respect will crumble. Fatherless girls are the ones that end up becoming prostitutes and drug users. As the movie makes clear, Amy and her “friends” do not respect themselves nor maintain a certain set of standards. They chase “cute” boys that are older than them. They’re unable to take the hint that these men have no interest in them because of their pubescent age. Another scene showed Amy trying to seduce the man she stole the phone from. The man responds by outrightly rejecting her advances.

The mature characters around these girls are quite aware of what is societally acceptable. They’re also aware that they are not to bed with any of them. To my memory, no adult character displayed any sense of sexual desire towards Amy or the members of the dance group.

And this is precisely why I reject anything the pundits are saying about Cuties. The film is perfectly aware that pedophilia isn’t acceptable. The film is about how our social media culture and lack of guidance at home is leading our kids to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Behaviors that they aren’t mentally or emotionally equipped to handle yet. (They actually thought one contracts AIDS by simply touching a condom)

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As a film, Cuties was decent. Some of the director’s choices felt a little off. When Amy saw the blue traditional dress in her wardrobe dripping with blood, was that supposed to be real or imagined? Why did Amy go into that bizarre zombie-like trance when her mother and great-aunt were trying to symbolically-purify her with water? Why did Amy SUDDENLY have a moment of clarity, during the climatic dance scene, that what she’s been doing to herself was wrong? A lot of scenes weren’t exactly made clear.

You’re going to watch this with a set of furrowed eyebrows, not only because of the twerking and butt shots, but because the film’s artistic element is sometimes messy. I felt the ending scene of Amy wearing non-revealing clothing, while still refusing to conform to her parents’ ultra-conservative inclinations, was sensible and acceptable. The ending shot had her happily jumping up and down while playing jump rope with some neighborhood kids.

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Just let kids be kids. They don’t need to be thots. They don’t need to be religious zealots, either. This movie is neither conservative or liberal in its message. It’s just a movie. And a very balanced, nuanced, and fair one at that.

Just let kids be kids.

Since it explores an uncomfortable topic, Cuties is not the movie we wanted. Since it tests our moral compass as a society, it’s the film we needed.

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