Should Christians watch Netflix’s “Cuties”?
NOTE: I apologize for the mature nature of this post. Unfortunately, these topics and realities are being thrust upon us and I believe it is important for us to address them, as Christians, in light of scripture and the gospel.
The shocking film
On September 9, Netflix released a french-imported film entitled Cuties. In its initial poster (depicting several 11-year-old girls in skimpy outfits and sexualized positions), Netflix described the film: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.” This poster and advertisement were reacted to with fierce disgust from many. Netflix responded by changing the poster and description; however, it also defended its selection and has continued to air the film on its platform.
The film, riding on shock value, has been prized as a triumph for the feminist worldview and delves deep into the sexualization and objectification of young girls from an early age. The movie follows a young Senegalese girl living in Paris who dreams of joining a local dance clique. She rebels against her “strict” parents and joins a group of girls dancing their way through competitions. The filmmaker’s intent is to show “that our children should have time to be children” by depicting, in graphic detail, the sexualization of young girls in modern culture.
The MTR Network gave the film an 8.5/10 score and described it as a “terrifyingly real portrayal of modern girlhood.” In doing so, they depict several 11-year-old girls in shockingly sexual ways. According to IMDB, the girls watch porn together, dance lewdly together in sexual positions (sometimes in front of audiences), play with a condom, take pictures of their private areas and publish them online, and other such things. This author has not seen the film and cannot confirm whether additional allegations such as underage nudity are present in the film; however, it seems certain that some adult nudity is present as well.
#CancelNetflix and the passionate response
Despite the ambiguous intentions of the filmmaker, the film has elicited a strong response from the public. Several conservative politicians (such as Ted Cruz) have made strong statements in opposition; however, the pushback is very widespread. A petition containing over 600,000 signatures requested that Netflix remove the film. The hashtag #CancelNetflix has been trending and it is reported that Netflix has lost almost $9 billion in direct correlation with their promotion of the film. This is primarily because of the thousands of individuals that are canceling their subscriptions.
Christians have swarmed social media with a wave of disgust for the film which seems to sexualize children and “normalize pedophilia” in its depictions of the young girls. Concern for the safety of children and the value of childhood innocence have fueled the passionate reaction to the shocking “voyeuristic direction” of the filmmakers, including frequent “close-up crotch shots of pouting pre-teens.”
The cultural defense: “Just watch it!”
Defenders of the film are quick to argue that the film was intended to be shocking but the motives are good. The film is meant to display the current reality in order to show its faults. Furthermore, it is argued that those who attack the film’s “nuanced examination of girlhood” are really just afraid of having the hard conversation. Those who disagree with the film’s choices are said to be contributing to a culture of shaming and the repression of sexual freedom.
The simple response to the film’s criticism is: “If you just watch the movie, you’ll see that the film is just as against the sexual exploitation of young girls as you are. Just watch it!”
If anything, this call-to-action (that of watching the film) is an attempt to silence those who dissent by claiming “they don’t know what they are talking about.” How could these passionate voices even know what they are saying unless they expose themselves to what they are attacking? This narrative glamorizes the “authenticity” of the filmmaker and the “ignorance” of the dissenting voices.
A fallacious defense
It is this that I wish to address. Although proponents of the film would like to keep the conversation centered on the supposedly good intentions of the filmmaker, it is important to note the terrible nature of this defense. Must someone really experience something before being able to determine its moral value? Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common argument and it is a logical fallacy known as an ad hominem. Instead of dealing with the argument itself, the argument is dismissed because of the person giving the argument.
One need not be sexually trafficked to know that sexual trafficking is wrong. One need not give away all their possessions to experience sympathy for the poor and neglected. One need not be a parent to know that child abuse is wrong. One need not do illegal drugs or prostitution to know the harm they cause. Our experiences are not the determining factor for morality. Truth is the determining factor for morality. As Christians, we believe that truth is ultimately found in God (the one who has no deception within him) and the revelation he has given to us in his Word.
Why Cuties contributes to the problem it's addressing
I want to give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt and assume that she intended to truly highlight the damage that the sexual exploitation of young girls causes. I am grateful that the film is leading us to ask more serious questions about our values and the way in which we protect those most vulnerable in society. We should welcome the exposing of the hyper-sexualization of children in our culture.
With that said, the film intrinsically contributes to this problem of child sex exploitation because it does the exact thing that it is fighting against. One “honest review” acknowledged that the purpose of the film was to “get you sexually aroused by 11-year-olds… and it’s not bad at it. They are hot.” The movie sexualizes children for our entertainment and fights for attention by providing this sexualization to its viewers. In a way, what Cuties is doing would be similar to a documentary filmmaker that kidnapped young girls and filmed them in order to depict the agony children go through in the sex trafficking industry. There are good ways to highlight evils in society and this is not one of them. The ends do not justify the means.
Unfortunately, the praise for the film shows that it is really a reflection of our moral climate, not a deviation from it. The director got the idea for the movie after seeing some young girls dance erotically to an audience. A casual glance at platforms such as TikTok, SnapChat, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube show the normalization of this exploitation. Sexual dancing is one of the surest ways to attain fame and popularity on social media. Objectification is rewarded with likes and follows, even if it leads to depression and suicide.
Christian, don’t watch Cuties
There are two levels to what I am about to say. First, is it moral for a Christian to view a film like this? I would argue that videos like this should never be things that Christians expose themselves too. The Psalmist speaks of walking with integrity “within my house” and how we should not “set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:2-3). He goes on to say, “A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil” (v. 4). When we view violence in movies, we know that the violence is not really happening. And even though excessive violence is not something that is wise for us to fill our minds with, the sword fight, gun battle, or lightsaber duel is fake and we know it. However, when we view explicit sexual content (even with actors), that activity is really happening in front of us. We are exposing ourselves knowingly to these things. A proper understanding of sin should inform us of the dangers of such practices. Instead, we set our minds on what is “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8). We focus on Christ and the holiness to which we are called to live as his people.
Furthermore, by watching a film like Cuties, we are contributing to those who exploit young girls for their own agenda (even if that agenda is somewhat honorable). The reason films like this are made is because people will pay to see them. By minimizing the danger of this kind of child exploitation, we are contributing to its normalization in society. There have been many who have argued, with the ongoing sexual revolution, that pedophilia was on the brink of being normalized. I was always skeptical of this assertion until the recent events surrounding this film and the passionate defense of it. The Telegraph says this is “an age terrified of child sexuality” as if child sexuality should be accepted and celebrated. It may be closer than any of us realize.
There is another level to this question. Second, should a Christian view the film so they know what is going on? This is an additional struggle that Christians must deal with. Does the criticism that “Christians need to watch the movie before they can say anything about it!” have any merit at all? I would argue “no” and here’s why. Paul exhorts to the Romans to “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). The Psalmist declares that he should “know no evil” (Ps. 101:4). Although you may be ridiculed for not knowing certain things, not experiencing certain things, and not enjoying certain vices, this is a commendable quality of a mature believer. We need not seek after experiential knowledge of evil.
When Eve took the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, that first sin involved two separate lies. 1) That she was missing out on something good by obeying God, and 2) that God was not trustworthy. We don’t have to partake in sin in order to know when it is wrong. We must ask the question, “Do we trust God and his Word?” Are we willing to say something is evil because God has said it’s evil? We don’t need to back it with our experience. God’s Word is enough for us.
For parents, it is a good thing to be well-informed about all the things that will affect our children. However, we need not immerse ourselves in those things in order to make godly and faithful decisions for our kids. Seek out enough information to make a wise decision and go no further. Focus on what is good and true and pure. Teach these things to your kids and know enough to make appropriate guardrails.
Responding in light of the gospel
There are two extremes we might fall into when issues of this nature present themselves to us. On one hand, we can cave in and compromise our beliefs to the sway of culture. On the other hand, we can become hopeless and discouraged because of the evil we see. The gospel provides a helpful response for both.
First, we must acknowledge that we live in a sinful world. This is the reality of sin in our culture and it will probably get worse. We should not expect a sinful world to act otherwise. Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble but not to fear because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). We shouldn’t be surprised when the world goes down a sinful path. We need to acknowledge the sin in our own hearts and be humble before God, remembering how much we need his grace and forgiveness.
Second, our holiness is what allows us to shine as lights in a dark world. By being blameless and innocent children of God, we shine as lights in the world (Phil. 3:15). It is by pursuing the righteousness of God and living like Christ that we will stand out and be a picture of the goodness of God. Don’t be disheartened. Press on and follow hard after Christ. You will stand out but it will display the beauty of Christ. One of the ways we can do this is by valuing and protecting those who are most vulnerable, our children.
Third, we can trust that the gospel is the only solution for evil. As much as we need to defend biblical righteousness and do our due diligence in pushing for that righteousness to be realized in our society, we must understand that only Jesus Christ can change hearts. It is only by the proclamation of the gospel that those who are far from God can come to him. Let us make sure that we are louder in our joyful declaration of Jesus’ death and resurrection than our sorrowful mourning of sinful things. We have the answer and it sets people free.
Fourth, we can rejoice that all evil will be destroyed one day. We are not a people without hope. When Jesus comes again and ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, we will never need to worry about things like child exploitation ever again. He will make all things new. We long for that day, we hope for that day, and we can rejoice now in light of that day. Let us remember to keep an eternal perspective. And especially in light of all that is happening, may Christ come quickly!
I have been encouraged by the outrage because of Netflix’s decision to continue airing Cuties. Thousands of people have cancelled their accounts in response. If you are a Christian, I am not going to argue that you must cancel your subscription to Netflix because of their position. My wife and I cancelled our subscription a while ago for a number of reasons, some pragmatic and some ethical. However, I would ask that you think rightly about this issue in light of scripture and the gospel. Pursue hard after Christ and follow his leading, whatever that needs to look like. Let us shine as lights in the darkness and magnify the gospel so that those who are far from him might come to him.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!