How Netflix's Cuties Got People To Cancel, But Also Got People To Watch

Fathia Youssouf in Cuties Netflix film
(Image credit: (Netflix))

For the past several weeks, Netflix has been under hot water for adding the French language film Cuties to its new September releases after the streaming service had to backtrack on a marketing snafu. Subscribers have not only been boycotting the movie, but Netflix itself over a since-replaced poster that was accused of sexualizing young girls. The movie reportedly led to a spike in membership cancellations the weekend of its release. But this also resulted in additional curiosity for the foreign film.

52% of a sample of just under 100 Netflix viewers named the controversy as the only reason they pressed play on Cuties, according to the exit poll conducted by Screen Engine (via THR). 29% cited it as a “major reason” they decided to watch the movie. In other words, Cuties’ unwanted attention has also encouraged subscribers to check out a film they wouldn’t have otherwise known about or been interested in.

The poll also had 72% of its viewers calling the Cuties hypersexualization claims “overblown” after they watched the actual content in the movie, and 38% of that group said they “strongly agreed” boycotters were out of line. However, nearly half of viewers also “strongly” felt Cuties should not be available on the giant streaming service.

Cuties is a French film centering on an 11-year-old Muslim Senegalese girl who joins a dance team despite her upbringing. The movie premiered early this year at Sundance to rave reviews (it's ranked 85% “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) and Maïmouna Doucouré won the Dramatic Directing Award in the foreign film category. When the controversy erupted last month calling for Netflix to cancel the film’s release on its site before many had even seen it, Thor: Ragnarok’s Tessa Thompson, who viewed the film during the festival, took to social media to defend it. Check it out:

See more

When Netflix’s marketing for Cuties was released, including a new poster developed by the streaming service, anger started erupting over the film. Netflix apologized for its actions, saying it was ”deeply sorry for inappropriate artwork” and making alterations to the film’s presentation on the streaming service. Director Maïmouna Doucouré said Netflix reached out to apologize to her as well, though Doucouré did not become aware of the poster until the rest of the public.

Maïmouna Doucouré said she received death threats online, despite the poster not reflecting her vision for the film – which was to tackle themes of hyper-sexualization, including her personal experiences and interviews with young girls, not promote them. Netflix allegedly saw a cancellation rate eight times higher than usual during the weekend Cuties dropped on Netflix.

The streaming service has not removed Cuties from its library and doesn’t seem to have plans to. Although it looks like it has lost some customers, 2020 was also a record year for Netflix thanks to more people at home during the pandemic. Its next big release is Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill and Sam Chaflin, comes to Netflix on Wednesday, September 23.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.