Netflix has caused quite an uproar with its release of ‘Cuties,’ a film by French-Sengalese director, Maïmouna Doucouré. The story follows preteen Amy as she desperately seeks acceptance from her obnoxious peers and painfully navigates what she thinks it means to be a woman in the age of social media. Amy, as a recent immigrant, is faced with two perceptions of womanhood; one, (represented by her friends) where ‘being grown’ means sounding and looking like it, hence the tight, short clothes and coarse language that Amy tries to emulate and the other option (represented by her Muslim family), where being a woman means marriage and marriage means listening to your mother cry as she has to feign joy at delivering the news about her husband taking a second wife. Is it any wonder that Amy gravitated toward the former?
Amy and her friends attempts at ‘grown pose’ are met with derision by the older boys they try to flirt with and disgust by the adults who boo them in the movie’s penultimate scene. Amy, in the end, rejects the two options presented to her throughout the film and chooses one of her own, which I believe, makes for a happy ending.
Most of the critics (comprised mainly of people who haven’t seen the film) charge that it exploits young girls and is child pornography. One of those critics, Sen. Ted Cruz, requested that the Attorney General investigate Netflix for its release of the film.
Senator Cruz references 18 U.S. Code § 2251 and 2252 as the basis for his request. Other detractors have cited the Dost test, which is a six-point guideline used by U.S. courts to determine whether or not a visual depiction is lascivious. But to really get at the core of the issue, it’s best to look at 18 U.S. Code § 2256, which gives definitions. First, how does the Code define child pornography:
(8) “child pornography” means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where— (A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; (B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or (C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
Looks like we need to define sexually explicit conduct:
(A)Except as provided in subparagraph (B), “sexually explicit conduct” means actual or simulated—(i)sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;(ii)bestiality;(iii)masturbation;(iv)sadistic or masochistic abuse; or(v)lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;
(B)For purposes of subsection 8(B)  of this section, “sexually explicit conduct” means—(i)graphic sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or lascivious simulated sexual intercourse where the genitals, breast, or pubic area of any person is exhibited;(ii)graphic or lascivious simulated;(I)bestiality;(II)masturbation; or(III)sadistic or masochistic abuse; or(iii)graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;
It’s a lot of words, but it’s necessary given the sensitivity of the subject. So, what do I know for sure? ‘Cuties’ is not child pornography. The Dost test was created to determine what depictions fall into the category of ‘graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person.’ At no point in ‘Cuties’ are any of the young actors nude, so at no time are their private parts displayed. A montage in the movie, however, shows close-ups of the dance troupe’s pelvises thrusting, backsides swaying and hips gyrating, so quite a few people have determine that this meets the standard in the test (it doesn’t). But, let’s say it does…
What about this? She’s 10.
And this? She’s 15.
This one’s a classic. She’s 12 here.
This one got rave reviews and won a couple of Oscars. Oh…and she’s 10.
I don’t know if there were charges of child exploitation when any of those performances came out. It doesn’t matter since the statute of limitations has likely passed. My point isn’t to focus on criminality, but on the uncomfortable-ness that people feel watching young girls strike suggestive poses. That discomfort was an important part of what made ‘Cuties’ so impactful. You’re not supposed to feel good watching. We should feel unnerved.
Folks are mad about what they read and heard about a movie, but dry-eyed and tight lipped about what’s happening to our girls in real-life and that to me is the real crime.