The film itself — released as “Mignonnes” in France — has not caused any such rows. Doucouré’s debut feature, it follows the story of 11-year-old Amy (Youssouf) as she struggles to find her place in life. At home, Amy has to please her mother, a Muslim from Senegal, but she’s drawn to a group of friends who have their own dance troupe.
Doucouré said in June during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival that the idea for “Cuties” partly came to her after she attended an event in Paris, where she watched a group of 11-year-olds performing a highly sexualized dance. “I was so shocked,” she said. “For me, it was just, ‘Oh my God. What am I seeing?’” Many of the children’s parents, who were also watching the show, wore traditional religious dress, she added, and the culture shock fascinated her.
While researching the film, Doucouré became concerned about how social media pressures children to dress provocatively, she said.
In France, where the film was released in theaters on Aug. 19, “Cuties” has not stirred any controversy. Clarisse Fabre, reviewing the film for Le Monde, said, “The filmmaker skillfully refrains from passing judgment on the very explicit sexualization of the dance routines.” She named it a “must see.” Le Figaro, another newspaper, also labeled it a “film to see.”
Reviewers at Sundance didn’t see the film as fetishistic either. “The sight of twerking preteen bodies is explicitly designed to shock mature audiences into a contemplation of today’s destruction of innocence,” wrote Fionnuala Halligan in Screen Daily, but she added that the film ultimately failed because it tried too hard to provoke censure.
Doucouré hasn’t commented on the fuss or the artwork, and her representative did not respond to an interview request on Friday. But she may appreciate some of the ongoing debate about the sexualization of children in society. “We can’t continue to close our eyes about that,” she said in the interview at Sundance.