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The controversy over “Cuties”: Why the movie is so wrong and how Christians can stand for what is right

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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A TV remote control is aimed at a black screen displaying the Netflix logo
Netflix logo is seen displayed on TV screen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on July 16, 2020. (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via AP)

I need to begin today’s Daily Article with an admission: I will not see the movie I am going to criticize today. Critics of what I am about to say will note that fact. But I doubt they would say that I need to contract cancer to warn you not to contract cancer.

The film Cuties is currently available on Netflix. The streaming service describes the movie this way: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.” 

“Free-spirited” doesn’t begin to tell the story. 

Scenes of a movie that should not have been made 

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is a secular platform owned by Amazon, not a Christian family movie-reviewing site. Nonetheless, its descriptions of some of the scenes in Cuties are beyond disturbing. I am sorry for what you’re about to read and will edit where I can, but since I hope you will not see the movie, what follows is essential to understanding the furor over it:

  • “When caught with her cousin’s phone, an eleven-year-old girl locks herself in the bathroom, pulls down her pants, and snaps a picture of her private parts before publishing it online. No nudity is actually shown.”
  • “Children are watching pornography on a cell phone. Nothing is shown, little girls are huddling around a phone and talking about what is going on. Another scene shows two young girls watching the routine of a rival, older dance team on a cell phone. One of the girls exposes her bare [body]. [Her body] is briefly visible.”
  • “Frequent scenes of eleven-year-old girls dancing lewdly where the camera pans in and zooms in on [their bodies].”
  • “A scene where an eleven-year-old girl dressed in a tank and panties is splashed with water and begins twerking in a frenzied kind of way. On her feet bent over, on her knees, and on her hands and knees. Camera zooms in on her [body] as she positions on all fours and twerks.” [Twerking is a highly sexualized form of dancing.]

What Nancy Pelosi’s daughter thinks of the film 

After Netflix acquired the movie, it produced a promotional poster and trailer that were criticized for sexualizing eleven-year-old girls. Netflix replaced the poster with a new one, claiming, “This was not an accurate representation of the film, so the image and description has been updated.” However, the movie still includes the scene that was the source of the promotional image in which the young girls wear revealing outfits and perform a sexualized dance routine. 

A Netflix spokesman told Variety that the movie “is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up—and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.” 

The film’s director stated in a Washington Post op-ed that she made the film “to start a debate about the sexualization of children in society today,” hoping for “change that will benefit children for generations to come.” 

However, exploiting children to warn about exploiting children is the wrong way to prevent the exploitation of children. 

Several members of Congress have called on the Justice Department to take action against what they call “child pornography.” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic Party presidential candidate, warned that the movie “will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles and help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.” 

Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted: “‘Cuties’ hypersexualizes girls my daughter’s age no doubt to the delight of pedophiles like the ones I prosecuted. Cancel this, apologize, work with experts to heal your harm.” 

And the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) stated, “While we commend director Maïmouna Doucouré for exposing the very real threats to young girls having unfettered access to social media and the internet, we cannot condone the hypersexualization and exploitation of the young actresses themselves in order to make her point.” 

Two biblical facts and a word of hope 

Let’s close by focusing on two biblical facts. 

One: The sexual exploitation of children is horrifically wrong. The Bible declares that “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Jesus loved children and said of them, “To such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). As we will see tomorrow, this fact is more urgent than you might think. 

Two: We should seek ways to use evil for good. Joseph said to the brothers who sold him into slavery, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). The Lord calls us to join him in using the brokenness of our world to advance his kingdom and our welfare. 

For example, I grieve for the children who were exploited in the making of Cuties and wish the movie had never been made, but we can use the controversy it has sparked to condemn such exploitation and to work for the protection of children around the world. 

If you and I will ask God’s Spirit to empower and use us today (Ephesians 5:18), he will answer our prayer. If we will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), we will lead people to God’s truth and love. 

Blaise Pascal offered this word of hope: “He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.”

What will be your “guide” and “end” today?

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