Across social media a battle is raging over a French film being shown on Netflix. The film is called “Cuties” and it features very young girls, some as young as 6, in sexually provocative clothing and situations.
Those who defend the film say it is an exercise of free speech and artistic license. They say it is merely avant garde, decry provincial American attitudes on sex, and say the film actually is against sexualization of children, but must show the practice to criticize it. Defenders of Netflix’s decision to air the film also accurately point to the fact that most who lambaste the film have not seen it. This analyst is guilty as charged in that department. Though I have read reviews from critics whom I trust and I don’t have to drink a motor oil and algae milkshake to know I will find it unappetizing.
Those like me who find the filmmakers have gone too far in the subject matter find the sexualization of children to be unacceptable in any context. I spoke to men and women across the country to see if my attitude was indeed provincial in regards to this film. And by French standards perhaps it is. By American standards it is in the mainstream.
Kim Kilbourne of Ohio said the film, “..makes excuses for perversity.” Lisa Marie Brody of Pennsylvania said, “Normalizing sexuality in children is vile and disgusting…The CEO of Netflix should be fired…This is not about free speech. This is about protecting children.” A male state government official in Florida, who prefers anonymity, said, “This is way over the edge. This is outright kiddie porn.” Virginia Dobel Lee of San Francisco said, “The film smacks of pedophilia. It tries to normalize the profound evil of it and take it out of the ‘thou shalt not’ category.” And Stacy Shea, a South Carolina GOP political operative said, “Netflix jumped the shark on this movie and now they’re trying to cover it up with these specious arguments.”
The free speech gambit is an interesting argument, as even famed Supreme Court jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” Thus the interests of a society can trump the exercise of free speech. The argument that it is merely edgy and provocative could be used for anything no matter how repellent. Thus, a game show entitled “Let’s Rape!” would be normal cultural fare because it defies societal convention?
Netflix and the producers of the film have hit upon a public relations and free publicity bonanza by their choice of topic. If that was their goal they have achieved it. But to try and dress up both the young girls and their own motivations in the guise of artistic expression is a gross lie and rank hypocrisy. For even they probably know, there are some things that just aren’t done.