Unifrance Condemns “Violent Reaction” to Netflix Film 'Cuties'

Cuties
Courtesy of Sundance

'Cuties'

The French cinema group backs 'Cuties' director Maïmouna Doucouré and decries the "the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers."

French cinema group UniFrance has condemned what it called the "violent reaction" online and on social media to Netflix film Cuties and has thrown its support behind the movie's director, Maïmouna Doucouré.

In a memo sent out to the French industry on Friday, UniFrance, a state-backed group that supports and promotes French cinema worldwide, said it "offers its full support" to Doucouré and the film's French producers, who have come under attack from online trolls who accuse the director, Netflix, and anyone connected with the movie, of hyper-sexualizing prepubescent girls.

"Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a presidential election campaign in full swing," UniFrance's statement reads. "In this context, UniFrance and all of its members wish to pledge their full support to Maïmouna Doucouré and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression. This is because one of the great strengths of cinema is its capacity to reach beyond borders and boundaries, and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies."

You can scroll down to read Unifrance's full statement.

Doucouré defended her film on Monday at a Toronto Film Festival panel on French filmmakers sponsored by Unifrance. Rather than sexualize young girls, the director argued, Cuties is meant to "sound the alarm" that we need "to protect our children."

In her feature debut, Doucouré follows a preteen girl from a traditional, Muslim Senegalese family who tries to fit in by joining a group of young dancers who carry out very sexualized routines and post them online. Cuties premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and Doucouré won the Dramatic Directing Award  in the World Cinema section. Netflix picked up the film in a worldwide deal shortly afterwards.

But the streaming giant drew online ire for its initial marketing campaign and its promo materials, particularly for a poster of the film Netflix posted on its site, which many criticized as being sexually exploitative. Netflix apologized and removed the material. Much of the online condemnation of the film appears to be conflating Netflix's original artwork with the film itself.

"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," the streamer said via its Twitter account.

That did not stop the online pile on. Since then, the Cuties "scandal" has gone viral and been taken up by conservative pundits and online supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges widespread child sexual abuse among so-called Hollywood elites. In recent days, the film has become caught up in pre-election rhetoric, with several members of Congress calling on the French-language title to be removed from Netflix's catalog, or requesting a Justice Department investigation into the matter. It is unclear if any of the politicians or pundits condemning Cuties have actually seen the movie.

"Cuties offers a subtle and sophisticated denunciation of the hyper-sexualization of a young generation who translate and reproduce the images that inundate them in their daily lives, particularly via social media," UniFrance said in its statement.

Doucouré said she has received death threats as a result of the social media frenzy.

"We consider that the call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalog, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas," Unifrance said.

Outside of the U.S., the film has not generated much in the way of controversy. Cuties was released without incident in France in August and is still in select theaters there, as well as being available worldwide on Netflix.

Here is the full UniFrance statement:

UniFrance, the association whose mission is to promote French cinema around the world, wishes to express on behalf of all of its members its full support for Maïmouna Doucouré, director of the film Cuties, as well as her producer Zangro and the distribution team at Bac Films.

Since the launch of Cuties at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received an enthusiastic response from audiences, the media, and American industry professionals alike, and where Doucouré won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award, UniFrance has supported and closely monitored the film’s impressive international career. Also honored at the Berlinale with a Special Mention from the Generation Kplus jury and selected at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, Maïmouna Doucouré was named as one of the "10 French Talents to Watch" in 2020, a group of rising talents chosen for UniFrance by four international journalists, announced on September 11, 2020.

In addition, Maïmouna Doucouré was granted the 2019 Academy Gold Fellowship for Women by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of a partnership established between France and the AMPAS some years ago.

For the film’s release in France, it was authorized as suitable for all audiences. Cuties offers a subtle and sophisticated denunciation of the hyper-sexualization of a young generation who translate and reproduce the images that inundate them in their daily lives, particularly via social media. Whether we are spectators, parents, teenagers, producers, or distributors, this film invites us to reflect on the power of these images and the complexity of the constant dialogue between young people and the generation of their parents. This film appeals to our sense of discernment, be that on an individual or a collective level, and calls on us to assume our responsibilities.

Over the past several weeks, we have been closely following the exceptionally violent reaction to the film in the United States, during a presidential election campaign in full swing. In this context, UniFrance and all of its members wish to pledge their full support to Maïmouna Doucouré and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the freedom of artistic creation and expression. This is because one of the great strengths of cinema is its capacity to reach beyond borders and boundaries and to offer a critical and constructive viewpoint on the world and the excesses of today’s societies.

UniFrance’s purpose is to promote French artists and their films to international audiences. When Maïmouna Doucouré invites and encourages us to reflect on social issues, it is therefore of essential importance to UniFrance that her work is able to travel the globe and to speak freely without the risk of receiving threats in all of the countries and regions in which her film is shown. It is crucial that this space of artistic creation and distribution is preserved, not only for this young filmmaker but also for all artists around the world.

This is a battle to defend freedom and diversity. Furthermore, we consider that the call to boycott the film and to have it removed from the Netflix catalog, in addition to the hate messages, insults, and unfounded speculations about the intent of the director and her producers, pose a serious threat to the very space that cinema seeks to open up: a space of discussion, reflection, and of helping us to see beyond our own preconceived ideas.