Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos is speaking out in defense of the controversial film Cuties. The French film had faced criticism from those believing it sexualized pre-teen girls even before its September debut on the streamer. In early October, a Texas grand jury indicted the streamer for distributing "lewd content."
Speaking at the virtual Mipcom market — an annual global market and conference for entertainment content on Monday, Sarandos said the Maïmouna Doucouré-directed film was "misunderstood" among audiences in the United States. Describing it as a "coming-of-age" film, he expressed shock at the backlash and the censorship debate that has arisen, making clear how the streamer has no plans to alter the movie.
"The film speaks for itself. It's a very personal coming of age film, it's the director's story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy," Sarandos said, according to Variety. "It's a little surprising that in 2020 America, we're having a discussion about censoring storytelling."
Premiering at Sundance in January, where Doucouré won the directing award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section, Cuties is a French-language film about an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who is split between her family's traditional upbringing and her friends at school who are influenced by internet culture. Ahead of its U.S. release, Netflix had promoted the film in a way that many believed hyper-sexualized the young actresses, having released a promotional poster showing the four girls scantily dressed along with a questionable synopsis. The streamer eventually changed course and issued an apology "for the inappropriate artwork that we used for this film," which they said, "was not an accurate representation of the film."
Although both the promotional poster and synopsis were changed, the backlash continued, with Netflix not only seeing a huge spike in canceled subscriptions, but also being handed a grand jury indictment for having shared "material which depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age at the time the visual material was created, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious, literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." The streamer, responding to those charges, had again defended the film, stating that it is "a social commentary against the sexualization of young children."
Despite the backlash, Cuties remains available to stream on Netflix at the time of this writing. Stay tuned to PopCulture.com for the latest updates.