The French indie film Cuties has been embroiled in controversy ever since Netflix released its promotional image for the movie, which many thought hypersexualized underage girls.

Director Maïmouna Doucouré has consistently defended the film, saying it spotlights many issues that have been continually ignored, and that Cuties aims to spur social change. “It's because I saw so many things and so many issues around me lived by young girls, that I decided to make this film and sound an alarm and say, 'We need to protect our children,’” she said during a TIFF panel on French filmmakers Monday, per The Hollywood Reporter.

“It's bold, its 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,” she added. “The controversy started with that artwork… The most important [thing] is to watch the film and understand we have the same fight.”

In the film, which happends to Doucouré’s feature debut, an 11-year-old girl chooses to join a group of precocious dancers and rebel against the traditions of Senegalese and Muslim family. Doucouré also spoke about the importance of showing Black and brown people on the big screen in the way that her film does. “It's important to see someone like you on the screen, and to grow up with a lot of possibilities. So, of course, diversity and inclusion have to be the keys to progress in our cinema,” she explained.

Following the backlash, Netflix apologized to Doucouré for their artwork and defended Cuties as being “social commentary against the sexualization of young children."

The streaming giant called it "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 encouraged "anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

Netflix bought Cuties after its Sundance premiere and premiered the film on September 9. Unfortunately, the company has seen a rise in the number of subscription cancellations, following the controversy and the release of Cuties earlier this month, with the hashtag #CancelNetflix at one point trending on Twitter. Someone also set up a Change.org petition, calling on Netflix customers to cancel their subscriptions. The petition has amassed over 650,000 signatures.

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