Netflix is learning the hard way that something as simple as a poster can make or break a film’s success.
The streaming platform stirred controversy after a poster for director Maïmouna Doucoure‘s French indie film Cuties, also known as Mignonnes in French, was criticized for “hyper-sexualizing” its four lead actresses.
In the original promotional poster, which Netflix has since scrubbed, the pre-teens who star in the movie wear revealing ensembles and stand in suggestive poses.
The movie, written and directed by Doucoure, follows Amy, a French-Senegalese pre-teen, who befriends three other girls in her neighborhood. Together, the girls form a dance group and try to gain a following on social media, unbeknownst to Amy’s traditional Muslim family.
Additionally, Netflix was criticized for the vast differences between the French and American descriptions of the movie. According to Vulture, “The now-deleted description says Amy ‘becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew’ and that, in an attempt to join them, she ‘starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.'”
Those who were able to view the movie prior to its Sept. 9 release date noted the inaccuracies and called on Netflix to change it accordingly.
Actress Tessa Thompson was one such individual, who tweeted, “Disappointed to see how it was positioned in terms of marketing. I understand the response of everybody. But it doesn’t speak to the film I saw.”
In a statement shared on Aug. 20, Netflix apologized: “We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties [sic]. 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.”
However, the film’s merit continues to be debated by many across the Internet, including Donald Trump Jr., who claimed on Twitter that Cuties is contributing to the “normalization of pedophelia and the sexualization of our children.”
Trump Jr. and Senator Ted Cruz are also urging U.S. Attorney General William Barr to open an investigation into the film’s distribution and whether Netflix “violated federal child pornography laws.”
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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cuties director Maïmouna Doucoure defended the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, explaining that she decided to make this film as a way to “sound an alarm and say, ‘We need to protect our children’.”
She continued, “It’s bold, it’s feminist, but it’s so important and necessary to create debate and try to find solutions, for me as an artist, for politicians and parents. It’s a real issue.”
Doucoure previously told Deadline that she had not seen the poster that sparked the initial backlash until it was released. “It was a strange experience. I hadn’t seen the poster until after I started getting all these reactions on social media, direct messages from people, attacks on me. I didn’t understand what was going on. That was when I went and saw what the poster looked like,” she recalled. “I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hypersexualiation [sic] of children.”
Cuties is now streaming on Netflix.