'Cuties' Director Faces Death Threats After Netflix's Poster Blunder Sexualizes Children

Maïmouna Doucouré, whose directorial debut Cuties hits Netflix on Wednesday, said she received death threats after the streaming giant released the controversial poster that sexualized the film's young stars. Doucouré's film is really about a young Senegalese Muslim girl split between her family's traditional upbringing and her friends at school who are influenced by internet culture. This was not reflected in the controversial artwork Netflix released, inspiring a flood of social media outrage before many had even seen the film.

In a new interview with Deadline, Doucouré said she had never seen the Netflix artwork before she suddenly began receiving messages on social media. The Netflix poster depicted the film's cast in midriff-baring outfits with short-shorts while the French theatrical poster showed the cast in more age-appropriate attire. The movie was originally supposed to be released theatrically in France in March but was delayed until August due to the coronavirus pandemic. Netflix released its artwork around the same time.

"Things happened fairly quickly because, after the delays, I was completely concentrating on the film’s release in France. I discovered the poster as the same time as the American public," Doucouré explained. "My reaction? It was a strange experience. I hadn't seen the poster until after I started getting all these reactions on social media, direct messages from people, attacks on me. I didn’t understand what was going on. That was when I went and saw what the poster looked like."

Cuties, or Mignonnes in French, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January and Doucouré won a directing award. When Netflix released its art, only people who had attended festivals earlier this year could have seen it outside France. But that didn't stop Doucouré from receiving "numerous attacks on my character" from people who "thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about the hypersexualization of children." She said she received "numerous death threats."

However, those who did see the movie were supportive. Actress Tessa Thompson, who saw the film at Sundance, said she was "disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing," adding, "I understand the response of everybody. But it doesn't speak to the film I saw." Doucouré said the French government has also given her "extraordinary support" and she said the Senegalese government plans to use Cuties as an educational tool.

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Netflix's art is "not representative of the film and especially its message," the director told Deadline, adding that the streaming giant has personally and publicly apologized. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos spoke with Doucouré over the phone. In the meantime, Doucouré is excited to see how Americans react when they finally see the film and hopes to someday work in the U.S.

"I actually hope that those who haven’t seen it, will see it, and I can’t wait to see their reaction,” she told Deadline. “Hopefully they will understand that we’re actually on the same side of this battle. If we join forces, we could make a big change in this world that hypersexualizes children.”