If you are comfortable with subtitles, I highly encourage those wishing to view this film to select it in its native French language, as it is so good to hear the actors' original voices, instead of the dubbed version.
The film stars Fathia Youssouf as Amy, a young Immigrant girl, on the brink of becoming a teenager and trying to find her own identity. Amy lives at home with her mother, played by the talented Maïmouna Gueye, and younger siblings, one a small baby and the other, a rambunctious little boy named Ismaël, played by Demba Diaw, who really shines as his character drives his sister crazy while caring so much for her at the same time.
Amy's entire world is turned upside down when she accidentally finds out that her father is bringing home a second wife to marry. This devastates her mother and according to their family's strong cultural and religious traditions, her mother must obey and act happy about the arrangement, which sends Amy's world into a spin!
Amy is at a time in her life when she is beginning to find herself somewhere between being a child and a woman and all she wants is to be like all the other girls in her school. But she is being pushed by her strict auntie, played by Mbissine Thérèse Diop, who acts as a matriarch of the family, making sure that all traditions are upheld. She wants nothing more for Amy than to be married off as soon as possible and does her best to teach her to be a good wife.
Meanwhile, Amy has spotted a group of girls at school who call themselves "The Cuties", Angelica, played by Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Coumba, played by Esther Gohourou, Jess played by Ilanah Cami-Goursolas and Yasmine played by Myriam Hamma, who aspire to become famous dancers. All these young actresses play their parts very well, with excellent believability!
While each of them come from a poor area and are mostly mean and cliquey, in comparison, Amy sees them as carefree kids, who don't have the same kinds of pressures as her. After a rocky start, Amy soon finds her place in their squad.
This sends Amy on a path of pre-adolescent rebellious behaviour. She steals her cousin's phone to start up a secret Instagram account her family doesn't know about and gets herself mixed up in all kinds of trouble!
For those of you not in the know Cuties originally premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where its director Maïmouna Doucouré won the Directing Award. However, it wasn't until the film was picked up by Netflix that all the trouble started.
This film eerily mirrors real life when the girls are depicted lying about their age, repeating misinformation about sex that they heard on the playground, view pornography on unsupervised internet, decide to learn the lewd dance moves performed by their idols in popular music videos, and even leads to one of the girls making the rash decision to post a photo of her private parts online. All these depictions are extremely confronting and were created to make the audience feel uncomfortable to really drive the message forward that this should not be a normal thing for a child or teenager to be doing and it sure does achieve that goal.
In a world dominated by social media, growing up can be tough!
Each generation has had its pressures on tweens and teens to cause some of them to want to grow up well before their years. However, as this film highlights, there is even more pressure out there these days; the popularity of the media, the internet, which can sometimes be impossible to monitor each and every time one of our kids gets online and even more present; social media, which can easily spiral out of control when things get posted online. Whether these posts are made by the person in them, or by someone else involved, they can never truly be erased and that can harm a person's prospects for the rest of their lives! Modern technology is amazing and very helpful, but it can also be a potential danger too.
Many people have been sharing a lot of information about Cuties being a terrible film, which sexualises underage children for an unsavoury audience, which, being a foreign film with a different tone than most Western audiences aren't used to, I can totally see how some audience members might not get the messages this film is attempting to send.
However, this film goes on to highlight the dangers present in a confusing time in young girls' lives, which in today's world is oversaturated in sexuality in some forms of popular culture. While the girls strive to dress and dance like their on-screen adult idols, it completely backfires on them and Amy learns an important lesson about acting her age, being her true self, and not being something that others think she should be, or what she might think people want her to be.
At its core, Cuties is a bold coming of age story, which is well written, with imagery that makes you think and feel for the main character. One of the most beautiful and touching scenes for me was seeing Amy just as she realises what she's been doing could be all wrong. Amy is wearing her shiny blue dance outfit, facing her mother, who is wearing a beautiful yellow, traditional outfit, symbolising the two extremes of Amy's life. This scene gives the audience a sense of the dilemma that she and her loved ones must be going through and is a perfect visual depiction of the figurative fork in the road that Amy's life has been leading to.
Compare the pair: On the left is the original poster and the right is what the Netflix marketing team came up with
In an unfortunate series of events, it seems as if the marketing executives over at Netflix got the themes of this film all wrong, as they decided to use depict the girls in their skimpy dance outfits in their "official poster" for the film and even edited together a trailer, which falsely depicts the core values of the film. Netflix has since updated the marketing campaign, stating that it "was not an accurate representation of the film so the image and description". However, there has still been a lot of damage done to the reputation of both the film, its director, and all those who worked on it.
All in all, this is a striking film, which, in a world dominated by social media, it would make for a good tool to open up discussions about peer pressure and what is and is not appropriate behaviour.
Cuties is rated MA 15 as it depicts coarse language and strong themes.