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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.