'Cuties': Controversy Lures Viewers to Netflix Movie, Survey Says

Cuties
Courtesy of BIEN-PRODUCTIONS/Netflix

Screen Engine/ASI conduced a poll of U.S subscribers watching the French coming-of-age film.

A majority of viewers watching Cuties (Mignonnes) over the Sept. 18-20 weekend said they did so because of the controversy surrounding the acclaimed French film, according to a new survey from leading Hollywood marketing and research firm Screen Engine/ASI.

Cuties, helmed by Maïmouna Doucouré in her feature directorial debut, is a coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old girl from a traditional Muslim Senegalese family who tries to fit in by joining a group of young dancers who carry out sexualized routines and post them online.

The film has become caught up in pre-election rhetoric in the U.S., with several members of Congress calling on the French-language title to be removed from Netflix's catalog. (It is unclear if any of the politicians or pundits condemning Cuties have actually seen the movie.)

Netflix found itself having to apologize several weeks ago after one of its promotional posters for Cuties was widely criticized for being sexually exploitative. "We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties," the streamer said via its Twitter account. However, the apology failed to stop an online movement in the U.S. to boycott the movie itself.

Screen Engine, which has developed a new exit-polling service for movies debuting digitally in the COVID-era, subsequently decided to canvass those streaming Cuties.

"There were definitely a lot of people who watched it because of the controversy," says executive vp Mark Orne, who runs the cross-platform group and is in charge of PostVOD.

More than half, or 52 percent, said the dust-up was the only reason they tuned in, while another 29 percent said it was a major reason.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said they thought the controversy was "overblown" once they actually saw the movie, according to PostVOD's survey of 96 viewers. Of that group, 38 percent strongly agreed.

At the same time, 48 percent strongly agreed shouldn't be on Netflix, while 17 percent somewhat agreed.

The streaming service acquired rights to Cuties after the film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Dramatic Directing Award in the World Cinema section. Speaking at the Toronto Film Festival in recent days, Doucouré said she wanted to impart an important message in making the movie: "It's because I saw so many things and so many issues around me lived by young girls, that I decided to make this film and sound an alarm and say, 'We need to protect our children.'"