The narrative surrounding Maïmouna Doucouré’s highly-praised coming-of-age flick Cuties quickly shifted once Netflix released a new poster for the flick. A few weeks ago, the internet accused the film of sexualizing children and even started online petitions to get the Netflix film removed from its release schedule. Now, writer/director Doucouré says she was also targeted by social media users as well, who reportedly even went so far as to send death threats.
The French filmmaker recalled the backlash beginning last month while speaking to Deadline in a new interview. She noted that she wasn't involved with the poster or the marketing on the streaming service, saying,
"Things happened fairly quickly because, after the delays, I was completely concentrating on the film’s release in France. I discovered the poster at the same time as the American public. My reaction? It was a strange experience. I hadn’t seen the poster until after I started getting all these reactions on social media, direct messages from people, attacks on me. I didn’t understand what was going on. That was when I went and saw what the poster looked like."
When Cuties was initially marketed, the filmmakers had chosen a completely different approach to the poster. As Doucouré explains, she was not involved with the new design that went on to offend Netflix subscribers upon its release. Sounds like she was just as surprised as everyone else was when the poster hit the internet, except she was also receiving angry and threatening DMs. She continued:
"I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hypersexualiation of children. I also received numerous death threats."
If you aren't up on the story, Cuties follows 11-year-old Amy, a Senegalese Muslim girl living in France, who joins a dance team called the “cuties,” despite her family’s traditional values. The film tackles themes of hyper-sexualization, but was not made to glorify or promote it in any way. The outcry came about because of the poster and not because people had seen the film or had the context of the imagery they were seeing in the marketing for Cuties, since the movie does not reach Netflix until September 9.
The streaming platform responded by changing the poster and issuing the following apology:
"We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description."
Following the backlash, Netflix also changed the tagline on its website and changed the movie’s rating from 16+ to mature. Maïmouna Doucouré said she received a direct call from Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos in apology for the mistake and has since been “flooded” with positive messages about the film from those who had previously seen it. Also, Thor actress Tessa Thompson spoke out about the controversy, since she had viewed it at Sundance Film Festival and it did not reflect the intentions of the project.
Maïmouna Doucouré based the film on her personal experiences and six months of interviews with young girls where she talked with them about their understanding of femininity and the effects on social media on their perception of self. Doucouré said a central message in Cuties is to remind others that girls should be given time to enjoy their childhood and choose when they want to be women.
Cuties has an 85 percent score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and is still set to be released on Netflix on September 9.