Netflix head defends controversial film Cuties, slams 'censoring storytelling'
Sarandos, the streamer's co-CEO and chief content officer, said Cuties was "misunderstood" at the virtual Mipcom market on Monday.
“The film speaks for itself," he said. "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.”
He added, "It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling."
A coming-of-age dramedy directed by French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties (Mignonnes in French) follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who moves to Paris with her family. She becomes fascinated with a dance troupe at her school, which puts her in conflict with her family's traditional Muslim values.
The film premiered at Sundance in January, where Doucouré won the directing award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section. Cuties was released in France by BAC Films in August and internationally in September by Netflix.
In early October, Netflix Inc. was indicted by a grand jury in a Texas county on the charge of promoting lewd visuals of a child in Cuties, citing Texas Penal Code Section 43.262.
The indictment also claimed that the movie “appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious, literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” It further alleged that the promotion of the film was "authorized or recklessly tolerated by" Sarandos and Netflix Co-CEO and Chairman Reed Hastings.
A press release from the Tyler County District Attorney's Office on Oct. 5 added that the summons was served to Netflix on Oct. 1. The offense is a state jail felony.
Much of the initial uproar against Cuties came in August when Netflix released a poster for the feature that many felt was inappropriate. The original artwork depicted the film's young main characters in suggestive poses and dressed in revealing outfits.
Netflix apologized for its marketing materials following the backlash.
"We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties," a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. "It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description."
Sarandos did not address the film's marketing during the Mipcom event.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Doucouré stood by Cuties and maintained that her film was made through a critical lens to "start debate about the sexualization of children in society."
"We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society," the filmmaker wrote. "I wanted to open people's eyes to what's truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icon. I wanted adults to spend 96 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, as she lives 24 hours a day. These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result."