A huge, and as it turns out utterly misguided debate has sprung up around this beautiful, sensitive depiction of an 11-year Senegalese black girl’s self-generated growth from childhood to maturity. The film has been accused of ‘sexualizing’ children when in fact it does just the opposite. By showing the young protagonist Amy (the wonderful Fathia Youssouf) descend into premature adulthood, the film actually crosses the line in pursuit of very uncomfortable questions regarding pedophilic reality shows where young children are exposed to a rampant voyeurism by judges (who should know better) giving points to girls for pouting, wriggling and what not.
So, please don’t shoot the messenger. Please? Director Maïmouna Doucouré isn’t training her camera on young twerking waistlines to titillate. It’s like accusing Steven Spielberg of being an anti-Semitic for showing the horrors of concentration camps in Schindler’s List. That’s exactly what the director of Cuties does. She wants us to be shocked and disgusted by the acts of adulthood adapted by girls who should be playing with dolls.
Instead, they become the baby dolls of the iPhone generation, drooled up by millions who watch them. The director spares us none of the cringe-worthy
There is no denying that the film is way too stark for squeamish viewers. The way Amy reacts to a male adult in her home after he catches her with his phone is horrific in its directness. The narrative navigates from the brutal to the tender, sometimes in the same breath. In one of the most harrowing sequences Amy cries silently hidden under the bed while her mother is hit by wracking sobs after hearing of her husband’s second wife.
Set in downtown Paris, this Senegalese film celebrates pubescent aspirations in a non-judgmental and utterly empathetic manner. Watching Amy and her pre-teen friends singing, dancing, flirting and trying to be much more grown-up than they actually are, is not always a pleasant experience. But all those who are mistaking the condemnation of pre-teen sexualization in the film are forgetting that you have to break eggs to make an omelette. In order to show Amy prematurely serenading promiscuity, that dangerous line between sexualization and actualization has to be crossed. Cuties crosses it comfortably, never losing sight of its moral goals.