Netflix have made a rare branding misstep with Cuties, the by-all-accounts pretty solid French drama from Maïmouna Doucouré. The streamer’s choice of promotional material for the film generated a significant online backlash, including a petition to remove it from the service, and a generally poor showing with subscribers. This reaction has now extended to the hashtag #CancelNetflix trending again on Twitter.
Although we don’t think Netflix are going to be too worried, the issues in the promo material for Cuties, which arguably misrepresents the subject matter of the film, should act as a lesson for the company. Cuties focuses on a Senegalese Muslim girl who rebels against her family by taking up with a twerking group, and has picked up critical praise, including a major prize nomination at Sundance.
The latest wave of the #CancelNetflix trend repeats a similar spike from a few weeks ago when attention was first brought to the poor choice of poster for Cuties. This resurgence comes as the film arrived on the platform this week, with viewers largely avoiding it altogether. As before, the hashtag revolves around the bizarre accusation that Netflix are endorsing pedophilia in some way by even including Cuties in its library, leading to some predictably pearl-clutching, ‘won’t someone think of the children?’-style posts from the right-leaning parts of Twitter.
Everybody's rushing to #CancelNetflix over "Cuties." But as I revealed last night, what schools across America are now trying to pass off as "sex-ed" (starting in elementary school!) is EVEN WORSE!
And your kid doesn't need a Netflix subscription to see it. pic.twitter.com/rfWcpDHdZp
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) September 10, 2020
If you support watching Cuties you are a disgusting pig and should serve jail time like wtf is wrong with people and to the writers and producers fuck you #CancelNetflix
— alice ʚ♡ɞ kook⁷🎄 (@jkoonayeon) September 10, 2020
— Bryson D (@BrysonDD) September 10, 2020
— 🇺🇸 God Bless America 🇺🇸 (@BRYILock) September 10, 2020
1.6 Million dislikes on the “cuties” trailer
Maybe there is some hope in humanity pic.twitter.com/eK8pbDfSOd
— Kyle Kashuv (@KyleKashuv) September 10, 2020
Have you called yet?
— Media Research Center (@theMRC) September 10, 2020
It’s a shame, then, that Doucouré’s work has been caught up in a moral panic that blows things out of all proportion, with many of the #CancelNetflix users intriguingly seeming to be politicians jumping on the bandwagon of promoting themselves as defenders of decency. Doucouré and others that have tried to add nuance to these discussions of Cuties by encouraging people to actually see it before passing judgment have also sadly been threatened as a result of decisions by Netflix that are pretty much out of their hands.
As usual, the #CancelNetflix trend will likely fade away soon to be replaced by another topic that the internet decides to rail against in almost universally unpleasant ways. For Netflix, though, the Cuties controversy will be a sobering reminder of how errors in judgment in marketing films with sensitive material can have damaging consequences for everyone involved.