Review: Cuties (Mignonnes)

Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, and Myriam Hamma in Cuties

Cuties (Mignonnes) is a French film on Netflix. It is not what you have been lead to believe from the bad publicity Netflix generated with its original imagery promoting the film. It’s a sad story about how social media deceives young girls into thinking they need to be something they aren’t. There are spoilers ahead.

Cuties (Mignonnes) tells the story of Amy (Fathia Youssouf), an 11 year-old Muslim girl, new in a Paris school, and her efforts to fit in.

Everyone stops in place in Cuties
Freeze!

Amy’s first day in school she sees a sort of mob action. When the bell rings, everyone freezes in place. Four girls seem to be leading this action. Amy wants to be friends with these popular girls.

One of the girls, Angelica (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), lives in Amy’s apartment building. Amy first sees Angelica alone in the laundry room dancing to music that would be forbidden in Amy’s household and ironing her long hair on an ironing board. She learns that the girls want to enter a dance competition. She wants to be part of it, but she doesn’t know how to dance.

While these things are happening, Amy learns her father is bringing home a second wife from Senegal. She hears her mother (Maïmouna Gueye) pretending to be happy about it but crying and hitting herself when she thinks she’s alone.

A complexity built of anger at her father, the burning desire to be cool at school, culture shock, and the onset of puberty cause Amy to rebel. Not the kind of rebellion where you talk back to your mom sometimes. She goes big. And she befriends the dancers.

Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, and Myriam Hamma in Cuties
The girls were all non-actors: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, and Myriam Hamma.

The girls admire Kim Kardashian. The irony of Kardashian and others freezing Instagram in protest over hate spread on Facebook is not lost here. Kardashian spreads a standard of beauty and lifestyle that makes young girls both hate themselves and turn themselves inside out to achieve the same looks. Couple that with what we learned in The Social Dilemma about how social media makes you fall into the worst possible places and you have a recipe for disaster.

Amy steals her cousin’s phone. She uses it to learn dance moves. But the videos she is lead to are not of 11 year-old girls dancing. They are explicit grinding, humping, pouty lipped, finger sucking kinds of videos. Everything is inappropriate for children.

Médina El Aidi-Azouni and Fathia Youssouf in Cuties

The girls are doing eleven year old things – being silly, playing, giggling. All the while Amy is teaching them the dance moves she’s getting from her stolen phone. They create skimpy outfits, put colors in their hair, and get ready to compete.

Amy steals from her mother to get money for costumes. Her mother and her Auntie (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) try to get her to straighten up, but they don’t know about the dancing. Their attempts at driving the devil out of her don’t work.

There’s a bit of magic in Amy. She sees things. On the day she has her first period she imagines blood dripping from the modest dress she’s supposed to wear at her father’s second wedding. (A wedding his first wife has to prepare.)

I have to admit it made me uncomfortable watching these young girls doing their dance routine. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable. The girls had no idea what they were doing or what it meant. We live in a media environment where young girls admire and emulate a world that isn’t meant for them.

It takes a bit of magic during the dance performance to get Amy to stop dancing and go home. She comes to her senses, you might say.

At home she puts on a pair of jeans and a modest shirt. She’s supposed to be at her father’s wedding. Instead she goes outside and jumps rope. It’s like she’s stepping back into herself, into her childhood. She experiences a soaring feeling of freedom.

The film was written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré. She used untrained actors to tell Amy’s story. It is Doucouré’s first film and was well directed and deeply meaningful and moving. I look forward to whatever she creates next.

In an editorial at the Washington Post, Doucouré said, “We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society. I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icon. I wanted adults to spend 96 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, as she lives 24 hours a day. These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result.”

Poster for cuties

Here’s the trailer for Cuties (Mignonnes).

Take a look at this film and make up your own mind about it. I’d like to know what you thought about it, if you’ve seen it.

Author: Virginia DeBolt

After many years as an educator and writer, Virginia retired from working life. She's always loved a good movie or TV show and wants to use her free time to talk about them with you now. She's Old Ain't Dead!

7 thoughts on “Review: Cuties (Mignonnes)”

  1. Great review! I’m glad you agree this movie has gotten a bad rap. It does have uncomfortable scenes, but they in no way promote the hypersexualization of young girls as has been alleged. I read much of the backlash is from right-wing QAnon conspiracy theorists. Terrible that the director is receiving death threats! More misogyny at work, in my opinion.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I haven’t read that QAnon material – couldn’t bring myself to touch it. She’s a terrific director with a powerful eye. I hope she recovers from this attack and goes on to make more films.

  2. It’s worth reading the reviews for the movie “Leon – the Professional” where 10/10 is given. Dozens of reviews praising the film because it is “hot” seeing Nathalie Portman (13 at the time) attempting to seduce Jean Reno (47). It made me feel sick, and personally I don’t want to have these kinds of people encouraged.

    I’ve no doubt that the director had honourable intentions for this movie, but part of a directors responsibility is to get a message across in a accessible and reasonable way. Turning it into a movie that titillates paedophiles, however accidentally, is a failure to understand that responsibility. The director doesn’t get to choose their audience, or how the audience receives the material, but both the director and Netflix should’ve been responsible enough to understand that filming pre-pubescent children in sexually provocative ways could’ve been misused by the audience. If move-makers and platforms for movies do not understand this, then it is clearly time we tightened the regulations for censorship of this kind of broadcast material.

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