In the film, my main character, Amy, can feel the suffering of her mother and yet see that her mother does not take action. So, Amy just takes that revolt inside herself and believes she can find freedom through that group of dancers and their hyper-sexualization. But is that really true freedom, especially when you are a kid?
-Maïmouna Doucouré, Director, Cuties
I have a little girl named Bethany. We call her Betty-Sue or BS for short. She loves the color pink and things that sparkle, and when she hears music she can’t help but dance. At three years old, she’s completely unaware of how dark and scary the world really is. When I put her to bed at night, she asks me if I will protect her from the Big, Bad Wolf (because the scariest thing in the world to her is the villain from her favorite storybook).
As a father to a little girl, it’s my job to ensure that she is loved, provided for and protected—because she may not know how dangerous the world is, but I do. Rare is the occasion that I would have to stop a wild animal from harming my daughter, but Big, Bad Wolves come in many different forms and they’re not just located in the forest on the way to Grandma’s house; they’re everywhere.
If you’ve been living under a rock this week, here’s an pop-culture update: Netflix released Cuties, a Sundance film by Maïmouna Doucouré (quoted above). Cuties made waves (and headlines) when Netflix published a promotional poster that depicted the dancing children in provocative poses. Netflix took responsibility for the poster on their twitter account:
I’m confused by Netflix’s apology. If the poster accurately depicts a scene from the film, and the poster is inappropriate, then it should logically follow that (at least) the scene the poster depicts is inappropriate. Either young, female children dancing sexually in skimpy clothing is inappropriate or it isn’t. I’m part of the old-fashioned, right-wing fuddy-duddies who says yes, this film is inappropriate.
But this film is being adamantly defended by movie critics and other prominent personalities. They are claiming that this is not a hyper-sexualization of children, which is interesting because the director said that the main character, Amy, “believes she can find freedom through that group of dancers and their hyper-sexualization.”² A writer for The Telegraph, Tim Robey, described Cuties as a “provocative power-keg for an age terrified of child sexuality.”
I cite both Doucouré and Robey intentionally. I feel that they have described this movie accurately. It’s “hyper-sexualization.” It’s “child sexuality.” Let’s call this film exactly what it is: sexual exploitation of children. It may be sexual exploitation buried in a coming-of-age story with elements of girlish innocence, but that doesn’t sanitize it. It condemns it. Simply put, supporting this film supports the perverse sexualization of children.
Now, before I go any further, I should say openly that I have not seen Cuties, nor do I plan to. If that disqualifies me from commenting on its release in your mind, I do not care. In the countless reviews I have read of this film and the comments from the director herself, it’s clear to me that there was a lot of intentionality to this film’s method and message.
It seems that Doucouré wants this film, in part, to serve as a reflection of our over-sexualized culture. Describing the film as a mirror of today’s society, she says this: it’s “a mirror sometimes difficult to look into and accept but still so true. We can’t blame our children for what we value in our society.” Part of the film’s tension and discomfort comes from the place where the “adult” world of sexuality intersects with the naivete and innocence of childhood. It makes us uncomfortable—and has rightfully sparked outrage—because children are not supposed to be anywhere near the sexual realm.
Christians should agree (without any room for disagreement) that sexualizing children is morally wrong. This is because the Bible gives clear instruction as to the righteous context of human sexuality. When people step outside of this divinely ordered design of God, pain, heartache and disaster ensue. Nowhere does the Bible include sex with children or sexualizing children as a part of God’s intention. In fact, Jesus threatens those who would harm children: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [lit, scandalize], it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
Furthermore, the objectification of human beings is a lessening of their status as image bearers of God. Reducing people to the value our perception of their collective body parts gives them is dehumanizing. This too is sinful—whenever it happens—not just when it happens to children.
If we think we can keep the adult sphere of sexuality separate from the childish sphere of innocence, we’re kidding ourselves. This goes back to Doucouré’s comments: “We can’t blame our children for what we value in our society.”
Our society is obsessed with sex. Pornography is globally a $97 billion industry that receives more regular web traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined each month.³ And as I’m writing this Nicki Minaj’s song, WAP, has been on the billboard top-100 for 4 weeks, including some time spent as the number 1 song. Here is a snippet of some of the less sexually explicit lyrics:
“Yeah, you f—ing with some wet a– pussy
Bring a bucket and a mop for this wet a– pussy
Give me everything you got for this wet a– pussy”
Sex in any and all forms is in our music, television shows, books and movies. We are a culture entertained by the thought and sight of sex. We are fools if we think that we can proudly and publicly celebrate sexuality in public spaces—half-time shows, awards ceremonies, etc.—and not expect it to affect our children. What Cuties gets right is that it disturbingly shows us the fruit of our sex-obsessed culture, but the indictment on Netflix, Doucouré and all who defend this film, is that its production—its very existence—celebrates rather than rejects the sexual flaws of that culture.
How can Doucouré say things like, “We are able to see the objectification of women in other cultures, but my question is—isn’t the objectification of a woman’s body that we often see in our western culture not another kind of oppression?”² and then make a film that deplorably objectifies and oppresses children—not women, not young women—children.
Here’s a description of the dances performed by children in this movie:
Throughout the movie, Amy learns how to twerk and thrust. She watches hypersexualized YouTube videos and music videos and tries to emulate every move that she sees. Amy even teaches the Cuties how to twerk and perform other sexualized dance moves while rolling on the floor and thrusting. Amy shows the girls how to do this by example, and later by grabbing their rears, moving them and spanking them. We see crotch grabbing as well…
The girls learn various “seductive” faces, bite their lips and fingers, as well as running their fingers up and down their bodies. Up-close camera shots show the girls rears and other body parts in several separate dance scenes throughout the movie. They wear high heels, short skirts and crop tops…
Lingering camera shots of the girls’ sensual, stripper-inspired poses are deeply uncomfortable and unsettling. And one apparent teen’s briefly exposed breast in a video has raised legitimate questions about whether that moment might legally constitute child pornography.
When I read the above description of 11-year-old children dancing, I get sick. That this is being lauded by some critics as artistic and beautiful is deeply disturbing and abusively complicit. Christians should completely m reject this sexual portrayal of children.
In fact, the question Christians should all be asking about all movies—not just movies like Cuties—is whether or not this adhere’s to God’s design for sex and human personhood. That moves the line in the sand much closer to home. We shouldn’t be asking if the sexually explicit dancing the children did on screen constitutes child pornography, we should realize that watching sexually explicit dancing performed by anyone is contrary to what God wants for his people.
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
When I think of my children and what I hope for them in life, it’s nothing like what I see in our culture at large. Because companies like Netflix continue to disregard the welfare of our children, movies like Cuties should renew our commitment to protecting our children. The woods all around us are growing darker and scarier, and the Big Bad Wolves are getting cleverer and cleverer at dressing themselves up like grandma. What we need to do then, as diligent Wood Cutters, is to burst into Grandma’s house with sharpened axes and deal swiftly with the wolves.
¹I completely recommend Plugged-In as a resource for the content in movies, television shows and video games. They are a conservative organization, but they don’t embellish or exaggerate the content in movies; they simply describe it in detail. Here is a link to their review of Cuties: https://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/cuties-2020/
²You can watch the interview where she says this here: https://youtu.be/Q8dsjAoazdY
³Check out this and other mind-blowing stats at this page, hosted by Fight the New Drug, an anti-porn 501c3: https://fightthenewdrug.org/10-porn-stats-that-will-blow-your-mind/