by Grace Mahony
Maïmouna Doucouré’s movie, Mignonnes (translated into English as Cuties) addresses how vulnerable young girls are on social media. The protagonist is Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese-Muslim immigrant girl in Paris, trying to find her path between her Muslim family’s traditional values of femininity and the hypersexualized culture of contemporary society. Amy acts like a typical middle-schooler. She wants to fit in with the cool girls at school and joins their twerking dance team, using their bodies to gain popularity and prove that they’re “not little girls.” Meanwhile, at home, Amy grapples with a tense family situation when her father decides to take a second wife.
The inspiration for the film came when Maïmouna Doucouré saw a dance troupe of 11-year-old girls twerking on stage, while their parents watched them, dressed in traditional outfits. Doucouré then spent the next year and a half doing research, talking to preteen girls about their stories of growing up and their ideas of femininity in today’s social media-heavy society. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Maïmouna Doucouré writes, “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… forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up, and dancing suggestively… These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result…”
The film was praised at Sundance and in France. However, when Netflix picked up the movie and released its first poster, people were outraged both at Netflix and the film. They believed they were promoting pedophilia with the scenes of twerking girls, which cover about nine minutes of the film’s total runtime.
In fact, Mignonnes is full of nuance. The film asks: do these girls really know what they’re doing? Why are their only idols these hypersexualized women like Kim Kardashian and not other powerful women who don’t rely on their bodies for power? The film reinforces this social ill: that these girls believe that the only way to get power is to use their bodies as an asset.
Kim, the host of the YouTube channel, For Harriet, defends the film by asserting that it’s a narrative of the Black girl experience. The conversation about Mignonnes should be about the dangers of social media and exposing inappropriate media to minors. Parents should talk to their children, especially their daughters, about healthy ways of expression. There should be bigger conversations about real-life child beauty pageants and reality shows who profit from the provocative imagery of young girls. Let this be a lesson for Netflix and other streaming platforms as well when adding new movies, especially international ones: there is more beneath the surface than the flashiest thing on the screen. (Maybe they can talk to the director before changing the poster.)