Writer and Director Maïmouna Doucouré created a wonderful look at what being an 11-year-old girl may look like in France today. Fathia Youssouf portrays Amy, a young girl struggling to fit into a new life in France. She was born into a Muslim household and has a younger brother. Her father is in Africa preparing to bring his second, concurrent, wife home. Amy is struggling to fit in at school as she starts through puberty on top of all the problems at home.
This film was pulled from Netflix in Turkey and there are efforts to do the same in the United States. The trailer and original Netflix cover art focus on Amy and her friends dancing provocatively. The movie has a much broader focus, but this is what the world latched onto first. The trailer is an unfair portrayal of the film and I think it should be replaced with a more representative trailer that hints at the deeper story of the film.
Amy wants desperately to be in with a group of popular girls as they prepare for a dance competition. They view their main rivals as a group of teenagers. Both dance teams model their dances off hip-hop videos and ‘booty-rap.’ The 11-year-olds want desperately to grow up and become the dancers that they idolize. They have no concept of sexuality or what being grown-up means beyond what they see in mass and social media. It is a story that applies around the world throughout time. Girls always want to grow up faster than they should, and society sometimes forces them to do so.
Amy gets her first period in front of the female leader of her local group of Muslims. The leader then tells Amy that she is now a woman and should prepare to marry. Amy’s mother is conspicuously absent throughout much of the film as she prepares for her husband and new co-wife’s arrival and wedding. Amy’s mother passes off some responsibility to the religious leader, who she is also subservient too. Amy’s mom struggles to accept that her husband is taking on a second wife. These two women, Amy and her mom, are both up against incredible life-disrupting struggles.
The film closes wonderfully. Amy and her mom gain some respect for each other through understanding. Amy eventually realizes she has gone too far and settles into being a ‘normal’ child. It is a very happy ending that comes out of a scene that is hard to watch. Amy’s character development is magnificent, and the culmination of the film is perfect.
The film allows broad audiences to see a variety of stories. It is important to allow film to be a creative space for people of a variety of backgrounds. Judging a film by its trailer, especially a complex film, is unfair. Cuties should not be pulled from Netflix. It should be the starting point for a discussion on the societal expectations of children and how quickly children try to grow up. Ignore all the backlashes from those that have not seen all of Cuties and form your own opinion. This is a great film and I look forward to more Cannes award-winning work from Maïmouna Doucouré.