Once in awhile, a story comes along that represents a confluence of just about everything bad going on in culture at the same time. One of those times was the reaction to Cuties (Mignonnes), a French independent film that debuted on Netflix on September 9. Bad reactions to movies are a dime a dozen, from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to Joker. But the Cuties backlash had the added feature of combining nearly every bad current trend in both American political culture and film culture, into one huge ball of bad faith.
This one has it all: QAnon, and its associated widespread fearmongering about pedophile rings and sex trafficking. The need for many to ascribe pedophilia to anyone whom they dislike or disagree. Barely disguised anti-Semitism, seeing the evil, conspiratorial influence of Jews everywhere.
There’s also the rank hypocrisy of the very same people who rail against “cancel culture,” turning around and demanding government suppression of a movie. The mistaken belief among those seeing films that depiction equals endorsement, and of course the temptation for many to rail against movies without actually bothering to see them. And finally, multiple stupidities related to Rotten Tomatoes, from death and rape threats directed at critics who gave Cuties positive reviews, to attempts at audience score manipulation.
It’s all so, so stupid. And therefore, so perfect for these times.
Cuties is a film, shot in Paris, and directed by the Senegalese-French woman filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré. It’s a deeply feminist, coming-of-age drama about an 11-year-old immigrant in Paris named Amy, who’s torn between her traditional, old-world Muslim family and a group of popular girls who comprise a twerking crew. It’s a plot that, while very uncomfortable at times, is clearly a sincere story told by a filmmaker who’s telling it from a personal place.
It’s the kind of story that’s been told by the movies going back as far as The Jazz Singer, almost 100 years ago, given a modern twist by the sort of voice that’s not heard from often in today’s film culture. It’s about someone from a traditional background jumping into a very modern culture, adjusting uneasily into it, and ultimately (spoiler alert) rejecting it. The film is also, to anyone who’s seen it, a broadside against sexual exploitation, and a brief in favor of the dignity of young girls, as the director explained in an op-ed in The Washington Post this week.
Cuties won the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January, leading to an acquisition by Netflix.
This all happened without controversy — as did the film’s release in other countries — at least until Netflix made the not-so-smart decision to post a promotional image with the young dance crew in skimpy costumes, one quickly removed.
But soon after that, Cuties was widely denounced as child pornography. There were calls for boycotts of Netflix. Critics who gave the movie positive reviews were put on “lists,” and also subject to death and rape threats. The film’s Rotten Tomatoes audience score, meanwhile, soon dropped to 3%, which I’m sure was the result of moviegoers with discerning taste giving their honest opinion, and not an organized brigading campaign by people who hadn’t seen the film.
The hypocrisy from the right on this is bad enough. But for all of the supposed cancel culture outrages from the left in the last few years, I don’t believe any of them have ever involved calling for the federal government to investigate or prosecute the producers of a movie.
I don’t believe any of them have ever involved calling for the federal government to investigate or prosecute the producers of a movie
One legislator in Texas pushed not only to ban the film, but to “file a bill to make pedophilia a crime in our Texas state constitution”; I would imagine child molestation is already quite illegal in Texas.
But make no mistake: Cuties is not child pornography, and it is not “targeted at pedophiles.” To argue that is a malicious, bad-faith lie. And it should perhaps go without saying that there has been zero evidence put forward that anyone was harmed or mistreated on the set of Cuties, or that the movie has had anything whatsoever to do with any type of trafficking.
What’s fairly clear is that just about all of the people railing against this film have not actually bothered to see it. Which, when it comes to commentating on movies, is never, ever defensible. It’s a throwback to the Moral Majority-era scandals from the ’80s, with the Christian Right railing against movies and TV shows they hadn’t seen, while at the same time not be grasping that whole “depiction doesn’t always equal endorsement” thing, and are also unaware that sometimes cinema is supposed to be difficult, challenging and uncomfortable.
Beyond the unfortunate tendency, which has begun to infect politics, for everyone to just baselessly accuse their political opponents of being pedophiles and child molesters, the Cuties backlash is part of a growing moral panic that sees sex trafficking, and pedophiles, absolutely everywhere.
Obviously sex trafficking and pedophilia are both real and both extremely evil. But there’s been a push in recent years, by everyone from law enforcement to media to various nonprofit organizations, to exaggerate the prevalence of trafficking, and to make it appear that everyone’s child is constantly on the verge of being kidnapped out of their backyard, Taken-style.
And speaking of Satanic Panic, that leads us to QAnon, a delusional, cult-like conspiracy theory that argues that Hollywood and Democratic politicians are part of a Satanic conspiracy to traffic and murder children, and that Donald Trump is the brave hero who’s putting a stop to it. Though of course, like every other Trump hero narrative, this one falls apart once you remember that all of the problems Trump is supposedly stopping have continued, if not thrived, under his rule.
The Hollywood aspect of QAnon – which, among other things, alleges that various major celebrities have been, or will be, arrested or executed for their part in the supposed pedophile cabal, has fit right into the Cuties controversy, allowing further conspiracy-mongering. Much of that “conspiracizing” also involves Barack Obama, who has a production deal with Netflix, but doesn’t run the company and has nothing whatsoever to do with Cuties. The bogue lore, however, has Obama not only filling a Netflix board seat, but also being paid $100 million by the company, to put his name on the occasional documentary.
The Hollywood aspect of QAnon has fit right into the Cuties controversy
Therefore, the release of Cuties must all be a part of the massive conspiracy, by Hollywood, along with the Democrats, to encourage pedophilia. Because if Netflix were going to push that hideous agenda, they wouldn’t put it in a high-budget, high-profile feature, but rather an obscure French indie film that’s not in English and features no recognizable stars.
And top of all of that, there’s the rank, foul anti-Semitism.
Blame the Jews
How in the world could a French independent film, from a Muslim director, about the journey of a Muslim protagonist, in a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews or Judaism, be a tool of a global Jewish conspiracy?
The anti-Cuties cultists have apparently found a way.
The French filmmaker Sylvain De Zangroniz, known as Zangro, is one of the film’s producers, and according to a Wikipedia screen grab of questionable provenance that’s been passed around all the worst parts of Twitter, De Zangroniz has Israeli dual citizenship. Therefore, the entirety of the film is one big evil provocation by you-know-who.
And of course, the movie, even if though was conceived of and produced completely outside of the studio system, is being released by “Hollywood,” and for that cohort, that’s all you need to know. There’s also the talking point that Netflix is “run by Jews,” which would certainly come as news to the company’s Boston WASP founder/CEO Reed Hastings and its Greek-American co-CEO and chief content officer, Ted Sarandos.
If you’ve tweeted anything remotely positive about Cuties or even argued against its banishment, and you have what could be construed as a Jewish-sounding last name, you’ve likely been hammered by tweets from those alleging ugly conspiracy theories about a global Jewish effort to push child pornography.
So, in conclusion: Cuties is not child pornography, nor is it geared towards pedophiles. QAnon is a lie and a grift, Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz are hypocritical imbeciles, and there’s no Jewish conspiracy to use Netflix to normalize pedophilia. And if you’re going to denounce a movie, dammit, try to at least watch it first.