The Steps Netflix Reportedly Took to ‘Suppress’ French Film ‘Cuties’ After Controversy

Following backlash against French coming-of-age film 'Cuties,' Netflix reportedly took steps to "suppress" Maïmouna Doucouré's deeply personal project.

The Netflix logo is displayed at Netflix's Los Angeles headquarters on October 07, 2021 in Los Angeles.

Image via Getty/Mario Tama

The Netflix logo is displayed at Netflix's Los Angeles headquarters on October 07, 2021 in Los Angeles.

Following backlash against the 2020 coming-of-age film Cuties, Netflix reportedly manipulated its search algorithm and took other steps to minimize the French movie’s presence on the platform.

In an extensive report from the Verge, internal documents from the streaming giant reveal Netflix attempted to “suppress” the reach of the movie after criticism accusing it of sexualizing underage actresses. While Cuties itself was billed by writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré as commentary on social media’s sexualization of young girls, many right-wing voices and deplorable pundits accused Netflix of distributing child pornography. QAnon conspiracy theorists were particularly critical of Cuties.

The backlash wasn’t genuinely prompted by the content of the film itself, focusing more on a poster featuring the actresses in dance poses. Netflix apologized for the poster, but co-CEO Ted Sarandos offered a defense of Doucouré’s deeply personal project. “I think it’s a little surprising that in 2020 in America, we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling,” he said last October.

Cuties was removed from the Netflix hubs for “popular searches,” “more like this,” “coming soon,” “coming later,” and “extras.” Per the surfaced internal documents, the company admitted to “suppress[ing] promotion and related search queries” regarding the film and toying with its algorithm to exclude Cuties from certain searches.

In response to the information being made public, a Netflix spokesperson said that “not every title gets promoted in the same way, just as every member’s homepage is different.” The documents reveal the streamer was looking to “minimize press coverage” related to the movie, but also wanted to “avoid looking like [it had] remvoed the film page from the service, [or] are moving the release date and/or not [launching] the film.”

As the backlash built, the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” trended on Twitter, and multiple petitions were launched to remove Cuties from the Netflix lineup. “We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties,” a Netflix representative said in response to the backlash at the time, per Variety. “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.” 

Not insignificantly in the context amid all of this, Maïmouna Doucouré is Black and Muslim, and Cuties drew heavily on her own story. “I grew up in a Muslim home,” Doucouré told the Root in September of last year. “My parents are devout Muslims. In this film, I have created many nuances that show my respect for the Muslim culture. This film depicts the exact way I grew up [and] the Muslim culture that I grew up in. Amy evolves in the film in this exact culture in which I evolved in. In the reality that I grew up in, women often impose upon themselves traits which they believe are in their Muslim religion. So in the film, I actually have an Imam who comes in and talks to Amy’s mother and tells her that ‘No, in Islam, women do, in fact, have rights.’ So, it is very important for me to show an Islam that is far from stereotypical and far from what we normally see on the screen about Islam.”

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She added, “It is true that I’m a director. I’m a woman. I’m Black. And this is very rare, worldwide in filmmaking. So, all of this controversy actually has built up strength for me.”

The Verge’s report comes as Netflix is embroiled in a controversy surrounding its latest Dave Chappelle comedy special The Closer, which many have criticized as transphobic. Sarandos defended that release, too, but has since admitted that he “screwed up internal communication” related to employees’ concerns about the special’s content. The outlet added that some at the company feel Netflix did not respond to the Chappelle controversy with “the same level of urgency” as it did the Cuties backlash

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