Netflix’s Mis-Marketing of ‘Cuties’ Sparks Furore

cuties mignonnes backlash petition
The streaming platform Netflix was the subject of high scrutiny and criticism after it released promotional material of the film Cuties.

The streaming platform service misrepresenting the content of the film, using images that are highly questionable due to their depiction of teenage girls in sexualised poses.

Cuties (or Mignonnes in the original French) is a comedy/drama directed by French Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré. It recently premiered at the Sundance Festival in January, where Doucouré won the award for Best Dramatic Director. It tells the story of Amy, a Senegalese 11-year-old growing up in Paris and being torn between her more traditional family home life and a young dance troupe which uses more adult dancing styles such as twerking. One of the main themes in the film is the over-sexualisation of young girls in popular and social media and the effect this has on teenagers growing up.

Netflix acquired the rights to international distribution earlier this year, and in August 2020 released a trailer and poster advertising it to its worldwide audience. However, the poster was immediately criticised on social media for its depiction of the pre-teen girls in the film, with the poster featuring them in sexualised poses and revealing outfits. For comparison, the original French poster featured the same four girls walking with shopping bags down the high street. Netflix has since apologised for the poster on Twitter and has removed it from their advertising.

However, the marketing folly may have already caused damage to the film’s reputation as many saw this poster as indicative of the film itself. A petition was created on demanding the film being pulled from release, claiming that it “sexualizes an 11-year-old for the viewing pleasure of paedophiles.” As of writing, this petition has over 270,000 signatures regardless of the clarification Netflix has provided. Doucouré has reportedly been subject to abuse and death threats online, and screenshots of online vitriol have gone viral on social media.

Cuties received no such controversy during its release at Sundance, merely a large number of broadly positive reviews. The film has since been defended by prominent figures such as film critic Gavina Baker Whitelaw and actor Tessa Thompson.

The entire incident demonstrates not only the damaging effect that poor and misleading advertising can have towards a film, but for responses on social media to be misdirected and damaging to those who most likely did not get a say in this decision. Online media dogpiling can often be based on misinformation and inspired by minimal information and interpretation, and the backlash against Cuties demonstrates the need for follow up and due diligence when it comes to lashing out against something or someone.

Cuties is set to be released on 9 September.

Words by Mischa Alexander

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