The new Netflix film Cuties is mandatory viewing for anyone concerned about or unaware of the problem with sexualisation of children. The story gives deep and painful insights into how, and more importantly, why children (predominantly girls) become indoctrinated to behave and act much older than they are.
The protagonist, Amy, and her dance troupe are eleven years old. She is a Senegalese Muslim living in an apartment block in the Paris slums. Her sheltered background makes her at odds with the other girls; at school she is treated with scorn until she gradually works out how to fit in. She is startled and fascinated by her peers’ revealing clothes.
Her father is busy taking a second wife, and wife number one, Mariam, publicly and privately fulfils the expectation to rejoice over the second wife. Only Amy sees her mother’s private weeping and she begins to understand the pain that women experience as they try to accommodate the patriarchal values of their cultural context.
As Amy moves into adolescence, the need to belong motivates her towards increasingly bad choices. Her little brother’s T-shirt becomes a crop top; she steals her cousin’s phone, indulging her fascination with social media; she becomes increasingly interested in make-up and mimics the dance moves she sees on seedy websites. All this stands in stark juxtaposition with attending the Muslim women’s prayer meetings where such evils are warned against.
Without the maturity to understand how she is being ‘groomed’ by society, she becomes increasingly obsessed with dancing and teaches the other girls in the group to strike the seductive poses she has seen online.
Amy gets caught in the vortex of the need to belong, be admired and valued, stealing money from her mother to buy suggestive underwear. She reacts furiously when others humiliate her, falling further down the rabbit hole of rebellion against her upbringing by using the phone to take highly personal photos and posting them on social media. It backfires and she’s labelled a whore. Even her friends feel she has gone too far.
All this while wrestling with expectations of being ‘a good Muslim girl’. The Imam comes with kindness to tell her mother she is not demon possessed.
The shocking and disconcerting contrast between Amy’s rapid transition to becoming ‘a provocateur’, along with regular reappearances of her innocent, girlish face, reminds the viewer that no matter how she presents herself, she is an innocent child.
The combination in her external world of religious values, the subjugation of women and girls to custom and culture, the need to belong, her struggle to understand and possibly control the different ways societies see women all collide in a dramatic ending.
I would recommend this movie to parents, teachers and youth leaders. It’s worth watching. And maybe, if your family relationships are good, you could watch it with your sons and daughters and talk about the issues it raises.
Bev Murrill is the founder of Kyria Network for women leaders, Liberti Magazine and co-founder of CGI, now called Christian Growth International
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