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Film / Cuties

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Original French poster.
Cuties (French: Mignonnes) is a French coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, this being her first feature film as a director.

It tells the story of Amy, an 11-year-old Muslim girl whose family originates from Senegal. She lives with her mother in one of the worst places in Paris. She follows in the footsteps of a girl named Angelica, who has a twerking dance group called "Cuties" ("Mignonnes" in French). From there, Amy is at a crossroads between following the libertine dance steps of this group and staying true to her family's customs and traditional values.

The film was presented at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020, and was theatrically released in France on August 19, 2020 after a delay caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Netflix acquired the rights to the film and released it outside France on September 9, 2020.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless:
    • None of the parents of the girls in the film play a significant role. Amy's mother is the one who appears for the longest time.
    • The staff at their school are mostly ignorant if not outright passive with what the girls do and they only ever intervene if a full-on fight breaks out. The school seems to have No Dress Code about their Age-Inappropriate Dress.
  • Age-Inappropriate Art:
    • The girls are shown not only dancing way too maturely for kids of their age, but the songs they dance to also contain explicit lyrics, some of which are initiating sex with other people.
    • Amy watches a very sexualized video of black women in a music video that contains a lot of twerking towards the camera. She does this in the middle of an Islamic praying circle underneath her hijab so she could watch in secret.
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: Despite being 11-year-olds, the girls wear tight, skimpy clothing that are meant for night clubs.
  • Author Appeal: Like Maïmouna Doucouré's 2015 short film Maman(s), the film is about a child of Senegalese immigrant parents who grew up in France and the culture clashes that ensue from that upbringing in modern French society.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Amy's older relatives would speak in Wolof from time to time, and songs in Wolof are heard in the soundtrack (the ending credits music, for instance). Some prayers in untranslated Arabic are also heard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Would be a Downer Ending without the Mind Screw element. Pretty much everything Amy was fighting for is ruined as both her relationship with the Cuties and the dance contest are lost. On top of that, she is further alienated from her family. Nevertheless, she seems to find some kind of peace after having lost so much.
  • Children Are Innocent: A revolting example with Coumba finding a used rubber and blowing on it like a balloon. When she was told by the other girls that it's a condom, she remains oblivious until they explain to her that people with AIDS use it, which itself is a precocious example by the girls who have misguided perceptions about sex.
  • Coming of Age Story: Under Amy's perspective after witnessing a girl her age in racy clothing and dancing to provocative pop music in the laundry room, which spurs her curiosity in exploring her femininity (Netflix's words).
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Angelica, Coumba, Jess, and Yasmine always scream at the top of their lungs when they're excited, which can get rather annoying after a while.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • It portrays France's rather loose attitudes towards sex and sexuality in general, even extending to minors, and the film criticizes them. There is a subversion in that the girls are openly booed by the crowd during the penultimate dance contest, including several African-French onlookers who do not take kindly to it at all.
    • The scenes with Amy's family, portraying a very conservative Muslim family and the women preaching their roles as a woman, including modesty and subservience to men, making Amy's eventual rebellion all the more shocking to them.
    • Amy's father marries a second wife in Senegal. Polygamy is illegal in France.
  • Dirty Kid: The Cuties, with their established interest in twerking. They end up egging on the naive Amy to take a picture of a boy's private parts who was peeing in a urinal (she fails, obviously).
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Amy stabs a boy in the hand with a compass in retaliation for him smacking her on the butt.
  • Everyone Has Standards: As sexually precocious as the Cuties are, such as suggestively dancing, watching porn, and attempting to take pictures of a classmate's penis, they feel alienated by Amy's impulsive decision to take a picture of her genitals and post it on the web. Even Coumba, who had been shown to be foul-mouthed and aggressive, feels uncomfortable about it and says she'd be severely punished by her mother if she ever tried something similar.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Amy's father marries another woman in Senegal, which makes her mother cry. Polygamy among Senegalese immigrants was already the subject of Maïmouna Doucouré's 2015 short Maman(s) (which translates as "Mother(s)").
  • Fille Fatale: A focal point in the movie is Amy, an early adolescent girl, beginning to pursue a proactive fashion in an attempt to join a dance group dedicated to underage twerking.
  • First Period Panic: Amy doesn't know what to do when she has her first period in front of her parents. Her mother however explains to her that it's natural for females and that it marks the start of her biological womanhood.
  • Fish out of Water: Amy, when she gains an interest in the titular Cuties dance group who she wants to join, but she is mocked for her homely clothes and "flat butt."
  • Free-Range Children: The Cuties roam town unescorted with no adult in sight supervising their dancing routines, while Amy goes to the grocery store without her mom or aunt, in fact shopping there with her little brother.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Eleven-year-old Amy and the similarly aged Cuties make a lot of sexual references and they also pepper their sentences with unfiltered swearing.
  • Gainax Ending: With her relationship with her family and the Cuties both severely damaged, Amy steps out to play jump rope with some girls. The camera pans up with Amy continuing to jump. She manages to continuously jump higher and higher (eventually higher than humanly possible). The scene evokes a kind of spiritual ascension. According to Doucouré, the ending is meant to represent Amy choosing to make her own path by balancing her traditional roots with the secular culture she is currently living in.
  • Good Shepherd: A version with the imam that Amy's mother brings to their house to examine her. He treats Amy gently and kindly reassures Mariam that Amy's behavior is not due to the Devil's influence. He also counsels Mariam that, if the situation with her husband is causing her and Amy more suffering than they can handle, she should consider divorcing him.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The Cuties' first interaction with Amy is to hurl insults at her and Jess even throws a rock at her for peeping at them during their dance practice, and they continue to bully her when she meets them again, eventually being subjected to their peer pressure. Despite this, Amy still wants to join their group and befriend them in some twisted way of getting their approval.
  • How We Got Here: The movie opens with Amy's tear-stained made-up face with bright lights all around her, and we only find out much later what that scene is supposed to be. See My God, What Have I Done? for the context.
  • Karma Houdini: Amy. She steals money from her struggling mother, stabs a boy's palm with a pen, and nearly drowns Yasmine to take her place in the dance competition. Her only comeuppance is that she feels bad for few moments, if even that.
  • Lack of Empathy: Before the final dance-off, Amy shoves Yasmine into a river so she can take her place in the dance competition, and Yasmine is quickly put in danger of drowning because she can't swim. Amy barely reacts to this beyond looking mildly surprised, and she does absolutely nothing to try to help her as she flails about.
  • Left Hanging: The ending leaves the audience to wonder if Amy's friendship with the Cuties and Angelica is irreparably damaged after she runs off on them in the middle of their dance routine during the contest. We never get to see what happens in her father's wedding when her mother tells her that it's okay if she decides not to attend, let alone know what her mother mean by that. It's never explained as the movie just ends with Amy skipping rope with some girls.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The film is about a Muslim girl who joins the titular dance group who specializes in suggestive dancing including twerking. It deals with and intends to criticize the hypersexualization of young girls, and in addition to the sexualized dancing and skimpy clothes, the girls are depicted doing other age-inappropriate things such as flirting with grown men and posting pictures of their genitals (which is intended to be alarming and repulsive to the adult audience). The film's subject matter is considered inappropriate for kids and intended for adult audiences who are critical of the oversexualization of children in modern culture.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: The security guards confronting the Cuties for trespassing into the arcade are accused by the girls of "groping them", when in reality they were using appropriate restraint on the girls for trying to exit as if they didn't break a rule about entering without permission.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: For some reason, when a piece of wedding confetti that was stuck on her hair suddenly falls in front of her, it triggers this reaction from Amy during the dance competition, where she suddenly cries and becomes petrified in the middle of their dance routine, perhaps due to the realization that the audience was booing them or that she had abandoned an important family event just to dance—it's never made clear. As a result, she runs away from the competition altogether to go home.
  • No Dress Code: The only explanation how Amy and the Cuties get away with dressing the way they do in school. Some background female students are seen sporting this too, like their rival group.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Amy's full name is Aminata, but only her mother calls her that.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Amy's mother, as she is dealing with her husband's second marriage, which ends up worrying more about her wedding than about Amy's true feelings.
    • Angelica's parents; according to her, they just work in a restaurant without worrying about Angelica and her brother. The film shows that Angelica and her brother do not get along so well.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: "Evil" might be too strong a word, but Amy does a lot of questionable or immoral things while trying to gain the approval of the Cuties, including stealing money from her mother, dressing in provocative clothes, and shoving Yasmine into a river to take her place in the dance competition.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Amy steals her cousin's cellphone, some money from her mother, gets into a fight with the rival dance crew that she initiated (even if the other crew sort of started it by calling them names), and in one instance, she even gets away with nearly drowning Yasmine. And yet when other characters finally call her out for the way she's acting, it's never portrayed as getting her just deserts but rather we're supposed to see it as a tragic turn of events for her.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The spoken Wolof and Arabic in the film is not subtitled.
  • Soap Punishment: In a variation where instead of doing it because someone said a bad word, they subject Coumba to this after seeing her blow on a used condom like a toy balloon, presumably to clean out the "AIDS" she caught from doing so and so she wouldn't infect anyone else.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • The Cuties are a dance group who specialize in highly suggestive choreography with the music to match, including twerking. Their behavior eventually rubs off on Amy.
    • In one scene, Amy stabs a boy's hand in her class with a compass, for slapping her butt.
    • In one scene, the girls, with Amy overhearing them, are seen examining a porn video (the video in question is not shown to the audience) and discuss among themselves whether or not it's rape because of the woman's facial expressions.
  • The Voice: Amy's father is mentioned a lot due to his decision in marrying a second wife, but we only hear his voice in one scene and it's through the phone. Even when the wedding finally takes place, we never get to see him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Yasmine, the fourth Cutie, is replaced by Amy after she and Angie had a fight for humiliating her (Angie) in front of an older boy she liked at a video call. This caused her to disappear for most of the film and only returns when she reclaims her position after Amy is kicked out for posting a nude online. She is last seen hanging for dear life on a buoy after Amy pushes her into a river. Whether or not she was rescued was not shown.