‘Cuties’ Movie Review: The Truth About the Netflix Dance Movie
Cuties became the subject of controversy because of promotional materials Netflix released. The streaming service’s suggestive artwork misrepresented the film by taking a provocative scene out of context. If the hubbub is what drives people to see Cuties for themselves, hopefully they will recognize it is a lot more complex and nuanced.
Who are the ‘Cuties’?
Amy Diop (Fathia Youssouf Abdilahi) lives with single mother, Mariam (Maïmouna Gueye) and helps watch her brother Ismael (Demba Diaw) when Mariam works. Amy sees Angelica (Medina El Aidi) dancing and ironing her hair in the laundry room. They become friends, while Amy also watches a quartet of girls at her school, the Cuties, practicing for a dance competition.
The girls in Cuties are 11. There is a sweetness and innocence to their friendship, but their activities border mature territory. It’s sweet when Amy and Angelica jump on the bed and gorge on Gummy Bears. Amy helps the Cuties record their routines, and practices their moves herself in private. They also chase older boys in the park, and find a used condom which they don’t exactly know how to deal with. That foreshadows Amy’s journey with the Cuties.
Amy’s point of view in ‘Cuties’
Writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré portrays Amy’s point of view in the movie. She often overhears adults when they are trying to shelter her from their discussions. Amy’s father is getting married again and Amy avoids both the relationship with her father, and the cultural traditions associated with it.
The Cuties are an escape for Amy. They’re a conflict too as she has to balance her familial responsibilities with this activity and her new friends. Amy has a lot of freedom when she’s unsupervised, but there are harsh reminders that her parents still control her. It will still be a few years before she’s truly independent, but there are moments of agency she can claim at 11.
Sexuality enters the picture when Amy starts becoming more provocative than the Cuties’ choreography. The point is that they’re too young to go that far. Amy gets too provocative in the way a naive child would be confused. She does not know the full ramifications of what she’s exploring. It’s tasteful and it’s a poignant point about the line between fun, empowering dancing and going too far too young.
The suggestive image that caused all the fuss with Cuties comes from the final performance of the movie. At that point, there is something uncomfortable about watching 11-year-old girls copying the sorts of movies that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion might perform. That, too, is the point.
The Cuties just think that’s how they’re supposed to dance. They’re emulating what they see, but they don’t think of it as sexual. To just show that image without the buildup, let alone the aftermath of Amy’s realization, robs it of its poignancy.
The world is a confusing place for adults, let alone children. Children will see what’s going on in the world and they’ll process it their own way. Adults can help with supervision but there’s still only so much you can control. Cuties is about that journey of self-discovery every child, and in this case especially women, go through. It is ultimately innocent, but Amy may experiment with corruption before she decides who she’s going to be.