Cuties on Netflix: Are You Still Watching?

September 17, 2020

by Juliet Lucas, a member of the Emerging Leaders Advisory Council (ELAC) and aspiring filmmaker. “Sex sells.” Internet arguments debate who should be credited with first coining this term, but whoever first said it, definitely knew what they were talking about. In 2012, a poll conducted by XBIZ, the leading social network in adult entertainment, found that most insiders estimate the porn industry makes $5 billion dollars a year. That’s a lot of revenue! But recent studies push that number even higher. Mobile sites, streaming content, and more share-friendly software has helped the industry grow incredibly over the past few years. In 2017, another study estimated the porn industry’s current net worth at about $97 billion. If you thought Hollywood was big with 600 films and $10 billion in revenue each year, that’s nothing compared to porn. With 13,000 films and $15 billion in profits, porn is outshining the leading film production companies by leagues — outstripping the NBA and NFL’s yearly profits combined. If Steven Speilberg doesn’t have enough money yet, he could go into directing porn and double his net worth easily. Porn is not a popular conversation starter in polite circles, thus, most would be inclined to believe that this industry is a lot smaller and less influential than it is. However, considering that PornHub gets more visitors each year then Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, it’s safe to assume that someone in your current area is swiping and streaming at this very minute. These stats are just the profits from the industry dedicated to pure pornography. Non-pornography sexualization has also been a huge seller in the moviemaking industry, especially affecting women characters. According to Statista, 35% of 21-39 year olds seen in films are in “sexy attire,” whereas 33% are shown with “partial nudity.” Showing off exposed bodies and exploiting human urges to make a quick buck off of a film is a freedom of expression granted to writers, directors, and actors. Spending money for porn site streaming and tickets to sexual films is a right of the people. But at what point do we start to question if this right has been taken too far in the modern movie industry? How about if it applies to children? This week, the French coming of age film “Cuties” was released on Netflix. The film tells the story of Amy, an 11-year-old girl in Paris who is searching desperately to find control over her own life. Feeling trapped by her family’s strict religious traditions, she turns to dance, finding freedom in the skimpy costumes and sensational moves she discovers. The final scene in the film shows her giving up both her strict religious outfits and her dancer’s outfit, however; choosing to live like a normal kid, in average jeans and a T-shirt. This film had the potential to be a cute story warning against the dangers of sexualization on the children’s psyche, the acceptance of personal identity, or maybe the realization that some traditions are stifling. However, these potential messages were completely overshadowed by the sensual and sexual scenes which display 11-year old girls in the most objectifying ways possible on screen. The girls learn to express themselves through twerking, grinding, and using their bodies to capture the audience’s attention. In one scene, a girl takes a crotch-shot and posts it online. In another, the dancers take a video of themselves showing off their skills, and the camerawork is focused on emphasizing the butts, hips, and sensual facial expressions of the girls. This film purposefully utilizes popular camera techniques structured for sexualizing female characters, such as a slow tilting shot from a girl’s face to her behind, where the camera holds in a close-up on her twerking. Criticism came to the film soon after it was advertised on Netflix, as did petitions to block it from the site. Opinion pieces coined these pushbacks as a political move, posting articles such as “Republicans target Netflix over ‘Cuties.” How far has the nation gone that pushing back against children’s sexualization and the objectification of 11-year olds on screen has become a political issue? Modern media seems intent on making this controversy about politics. It might be a good time to question who holds the final say in the morality of filmmaking. Some argue the screenwriters and directors should be responsible for monitoring the morality of their films, and not crossing lines into the fields of pedophilia. Others believe a sense of morality might be due to the consumers; after all, the filmmaking industry is a market economy, and they could not keep making this kind of material without support from loyal customers. Who should be held responsible for the streaming of polished, and admittedly, well-shot pedophilia? The filmmakers? The directors of Netflix? The viewers who didn’t push back enough to stop this film from being streamed? Filmmaking is a chance for free expression, and film directors and writers should be at liberty to choose their content. But there comes a time when the morality and ethical practices of both the filmmakers and audience members supporting these kinds of works must be called into question. There are also times where the protection of young children should rise above the typical partisan bickering that often divides us. This is one of those times.

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