Sundance 2020: Cuties is an Uncomfortable Portrayal of Tweenhood

Earnest performances from the assemble cast and Doucouré’s deliberately voyeuristic direction showcases the perils and plights of coming of age in the digital era.

Cuties: Terrifyingly Real Portrayal of Modern Girlhood

The internet can be a scary place. Access to information doesn’t just mean a democratized digital space - it also means more access to danger and harm. When raising young children in the internet age, who and what can influence them has expanded more than ever before. It’s jarring to come to terms with this, but Maïmouna Doucouré’s film Cuties challenges the audience to do so. Earnest performances from the assemble cast and Doucouré’s deliberately voyeuristic direction showcases the perils and plights of coming of age in the digital era.

Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is an 11-year-old French Sengalese girl, struggling to grow into who she is. Her mother is hit with news of her father taking a second wife, throwing the family into preparation for their wedding celebration. Downtrodden, she looks to find friendship with a group of popular tween dancers, who call themselves “cuties.” While she and the “cuties” practice to compete in a dance competition, she begins to grow increasingly rebellious. Going against her religious values, Amy continues to spiral in a volatile way. 

Deliberate Camera Choices That Make A Point

Amy finds herself warring with her conservative Muslim upbringing while seeking the freedom the “cuties” represent. Typically in a hoodie and T-shirts, she starts wearing her younger brother’s shirt and fashions it into a crop top. Eventually, she steals money to buy more fashionable crop tops, heeled clogs, liquid leggings, and other Limited Too-esque outfits. This escalates into buying lingerie for her and her new friends, desperate to kick the “baby” image. 

Despite the “cuties” wanting you to think they’re mature, Doucouré reminds you constantly in the screenplay their age. The interactions they have between other people in the film - like older classmates - serve as a heat check that no matter their insistence, these are children so act accordingly. Doucouré pairs this reminder with close tracking shots while the girls practice dancing. The closeness of the camera while these children attempt to dance sensually is very uncomfortable to witness. But that’s the objective; it reinforces how over-sexualized girls like them have been. In particular Black girls, who have commonly been told they’re “hot in the pants” or “too grown” starting at this age. The onus is put on the audience (the adults in the room, literally) to look away while these girls are trying to figure themselves out. 

Protect Our Babies

Eventually, Amy’s mother finds out what’s going on and confronts her. “Who are you, Amy?” she screams in an explosive scene that ends in tears and holy water. The actions were certainly excessive but ultimately a hard lesson in trying to find a place in Amy’s world. With access to a phone, she now had adult dancers to inspire her dance moves, friends to inspire her looks, and photos to inspire her bad decision-making. Cuties ends as heartbreaking as it does hopeful. Amy has plenty of life left to live to reverse the mistakes she’s made. But in an age of influence, society is not doing a good job protecting these girls and influencing them for the better.


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Joi Childs

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