Starring Fathia Youssouf as Amy, Médina El Aidi-Azouni as Angelica, Maïmouna Gueye as Mariam, Esther Gohourou as Coumba, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas as Jess, Myriam Hamma as Yasmine, Mbissine Therese Diop as the aunt
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré
A huge, and as it turns out utterly misguided, debate has sprung up around this beautiful, sensitive depiction of an 11-year Senegalese black girl’s self-generated growth from childhood to maturity.
The film has been accused of ‘sexualizing’ children when in fact it does just the opposite. By showing the 11-year old protagonist Amy (the wonderful Fathia Youssouf) descend into premature adulthood the film actually crosses the line in pursuit of very uncomfortable questions regarding paedophilic reality shows where young children are exposed to a rampant voyeurism by judges (who should know better) giving points to girls for pouting and wriggling, thrusting and heaving imaginary bosoms.
So please don’t shoot the messenger. Please?
Director Maïmouna Doucouré isn’t training her camera on young twerking waistlines to titillate. It’s like accusing Steven Spielberg of being an anti-Semitic for showing the horrors of concentration camps in Schindler’s List. That’s exactly what the director of Cuties does. She wants us to be shocked and disgusted by the acts of adulthood adapted by girls who should be playing with dolls.
Instead they become the babydolls of the Iphone generation, drooled up by millions who watch them. The director spares us none of the cringe-worthy horrors of watching our little heroine Amy transform into a pouty slut.
The film is meant to make us uncomfortable, and it does. At the same time Cuties is not only about stalking the voyeurs through the camera lens. There is infinite warmth in Amy’s relationship with her distressed mother. And Amy’s resigned repudiation of religious rituals is humorous in a very sad kind of way.
At the same time the film is way too stark for squeamish viewers. The way Amy reacts to a male adult in her home after he catches her with his phone, is horrific in its directness. The narrative navigates from the brutal to the tender, sometimes in the same breath.
In one of the most harrowing sequences Amy cries silently hidden under the bed while her mother is hit by wracking sobs after hearing of her husband’s second wife
Set in downtown Paris, this Senegalese film celebrates pubescent aspirations in a non-judgmental utterly empathetic manner. Watching Amy and her pre-teen friends singing, dancing flirting and trying to be much more grown-up than they actually are, is not always a pleasant experience.
All those who are mistaking the condemnation of pre-teen sexualization for the porn-thing are forgetting that you have to break eggs to make an omelette. In order to show Amy prematurely serenading sluttiness, that dangerous line between sexualization and actualization has to be crossed. Cuties crosses it comfortably, never losing sight of its moral goals.