Netflix’s Cuties and a Brief Conversation About Child Sexualization in Pop Culture

On August 19, 2020 I saw a Facebook post featuring the original Netflix poster for the Cuties film. I’m going to insert a screenshot of my original reaction.

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At first, I thought it was fake or altered like a lot of incendiary posts on the internet are but nope, it was real. 

I moved from shock to denial and then rationalization within the span of a few minutes because I was trying to make sense of why Netflix would showcase a film that blatantly sexualizes children. And as I looked further into the situation, I realized it was not a Netflix original, it was a French film that had recently premiered at Sundance. I hadn’t heard anything outrageous about the film when it was shown at Sundance so I dug a little deeper and realized that the problem wasn’t with the film, it was with Netflix. Well, sort of. Give me a minute to explain.

The movie was written and directed by Maimouna Doucouré, a Black French filmmaker who is also a woman. She said she created the film to, “highlight how social media pushes girls to mimic sexualized imagery without fully understanding what lies behind it or the dangers involved.” The film follows an eleven-year-old who decides to join a dance crew that enters a twerking competition. There are a few other things that happen but that’s the basic plot.

Netflix decided to run with the idea that sex sells. And normally it does. Sex used to sell cigarettes and now it sells e-cigarettes and vaping. It also sells soap, burgers, perfumes, razors etc. Sex sells everything….except for movies about children. Even if those movies are about children in grownup situations intended for a mature audience.

After I watched the trailer for the film I got the feeling that this was going to be a racier film because the subject matter is provocative. From the trailer, I got the sense that the film had a very strong message of girls coming of age in a world that sexualizes them at a young age. I could also see from the trailer that this film was going to talk a lot about cultural beliefs, growing to know one’s self, and the influences of western identity and the clash of cultural norms. But the trailer also made me feel like this was going to be an inspirational story about a young girl owning her identity, her womanhood, and her sexuality. And I was not here for that because the protagonist is eleven. If the protagonist was fifteen or sixteen I don’t think anyone would have really batted an eye because the topic of teenagers being overly sexualized is commonplace. There may have still been some push back about the poster but nowhere near the storm we have now.

This is why I applaud the writer/director of this film. She boldly went where a lot of people would not dare to go but now she and her award-winning film is facing a lot of public backlash. We live in a shock-value world and a mixture of her subject matter and Netflix’s poor choice of film description and poster has probably stained her film. I know it surely dissuaded me from watching, although, I feel like I was never part of her target audience, to begin with. I’m well aware that sexualization doesn’t start at the quasi-socially acceptable ages of 15 and 16. No, it starts as soon as a child is born in some cases. I recently read an article about a father who sexually assaulted his own daughter who wasn’t even 1 yet. 

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Doucouré’s film probably has merit but it’s a film I’m choosing not to watch. Not because I want to hide from the content but because I’m more than aware of how children are sexualized and how our hyper-connectivity to the internet is also playing a role in it. When “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion came out and there was backlash from that and I stood by the song even though it’s not typically what I listen to. I stood by it because most of the claims against the song were baseless, in my opinion, in regards to children. Half the issues we have with our children now is because we’re allowing the internet to raise them instead of actually paying attention to what our children like, what they idolize, and what they consume. That song wasn’t for kids in the same way this movie isn’t for kids. But there are tons of people who would hand their kids an iPad without parental controls engaged and be outraged when they realize their kids are watching this film and then get on social media and tell everyone that this movie is promoting sexualization of kids and pedophilia.  

You can also say that even if she wasn’t intending to, she created pornographic images of children for pedophiles to desire. And I would simply say, again, this film isn’t for me because I don’t want to sit through a film about eleven-year-olds twerking but the images still exist elsewhere. Where do you think she got her inspiration from? 

This sentiment also brings to mind a well-known book titled Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It was published in the 1950s and is well known for its subject matter as well as the amazing narrative devices it used. Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged man who is “seduced” by his twelve-year-old stepdaughter. I was forced to read it in college and I found the book to be amazing but disturbing and at some points physically sickening because the story is written from Humbert’s point of view and he’s an unreliable narrator who doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. You have to read the text as well as what isn’t there in order to understand what’s really happening.

It’s very provocative and it sparked outrage, publication and book bans as well as several film and stage adaptations. And it’s where the term Lolita, a young girl who is sexually promiscuous, comes from. The author wrote the book to try to give a glimpse into the mind of a pedophile. The plot is assumed to be loosely based on two child abductions and rapes that had taken place within a ten-year span of Nabokov writing the book. The only special request he ever made in regards to the book was for the book to never have a little girl on the cover. Never. Skip forward seventy-ish years later and almost all of the covers have little girls on them. And a lot of the covers with little girls on them are little girls in sexually suggestive poses. As the book has been reprinted new covers have been made. You can take a look at 60 versions of the book’s cover here. 

I brought it up just to say that the author wanted to talk about an important but sickening subject matter but he also didn’t want to objectify the real victim of his story but people did it anyway.

If you want to learn more about this or at least hear the film’s creator talk about the controversy, you should read the BBC article that sparked me to write this post.

Finding Happiness Through Art

I am a creative. That’s the best way to describe me. The things that make me the happiest are all in the creative fields. Music. Film. Photography. Writing. And at one point in time, I thought that if I could do the things I loved for a living, I would never feel like I was working. Thus, beating the system and living a happy and fulfilling life. But over the past year, that belief has changed. I still enjoy freelance photography although I now know that it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Just because I take nice photos doesn’t mean I’ll have people lining up for me to take their family portraits or covering their small business opening. It takes time to build clientele and you have to know how to market yourself and your business.

Earlier in the year, I did some freelance writing. I found a client and stuck with them for a few months. At the height of the writing, I was turning out three pieces a week while also working fulltime. I was supposed to be working on my own book as well but all that other writing stalled everything else. And after coming home from work and working on someone else’s stuff, I was too burned out to work on my own labor of love. And so, even though I was very excited and proud that my writing was paying some bills, I realized that if I transitioned into full-time freelance work, I wouldn’t be able to write for myself. Yes, the writing did pay the bills but I also had another income that bought food and also paid bills. If I took away that other income and had to force myself to write for others instead of myself. I know that would have sucked the joy out of it. The thrill of making money would have worn off and I would have hated writing. That sounds horrible to me. Writing has been my stress reliever for as long as I can remember.

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But when I was younger, I used to have another stress reliever. Drawing. I’ve been writing stories ever since I could pick up a crayon. I’m serious. One of my earliest memories was of me scribbling across my freshly painted white bedroom walls and rushing up to my less than thrilled parents to show them my story. And soon after the stories started, artwork followed. I would create posters, book covers, and character art for my stories. And I enjoyed it, deeply. I would spend hours in my room on my bed or laying on the floor, drawing and coloring. But the joy started to fade around middle school when I realized my art style was stuck at a certain stage. And although the writing continued into high school, my art pieces became few and in-between. My high school offered four years of art and so I drifted away from drawing and moved into pottery and then around my senior year in high school, my father taught an art class at my high school for a day. It sparked my interest in it again but after becoming frustrated once more, because I couldn’t progress… I gave up, until recently.

This resurgence in my art was sparked by my nephew and mother. My oldest nephew seems to be a promising artist and he draws for me often. And then my mother started buying adult coloring books to pass the time. I’d colored in adult coloring books in college but it was refreshing to see someone like my mother really enjoying the process of coloring. And when times became stressful, we’d all pull out her coloring books and take turns coloring a page. All of these things together made me open up to the idea of starting to draw again and maybe even try to learn the skills I didn’t have as a kid.

I’m not going to say I’ll never monetize my art but I know that in order to keep it as a stress reliever, I shouldn’t lean on it for extra cash and definitely never try to make it a career.

 

Beyond the First Draft

It was September. I was unemployed, living in the bottom half of my cousin’s house in Houston, Texas because I moved from Missouri to Texas with hopes of landing my first big corporate job after college. I didn’t get the job and I moved for nothing. I was also having a major health scare—breast cancer. Two of my aunts had it; one living and one not. My father died from pancreatic cancer and my mother was in remission from leukemia. I was freaking out and the only thing that held me together was my imagination and my need to tell a story. 

By October, life was looking up. I didn’t have breast cancer but I did have a tumor. I booked a flight back to St. Louis because the whole breast cancer scenario scared me back into wanting my mom close enough to hug. Plus, I didn’t want to overstay my welcome with my cousin. Our relationship was on good terms and I didn’t want that to change but before I left Houston, I took three days to outline a book. Well, really it was four but one of the days was a none writing day. 

I’d been trying to write a book for nearly a year before then but could never get it together. It’s funny how functional you can become when you think you’re dying at 23. 

Anyway, by the time I landed in St. Louis, it was October and chilly. I started writing the first draft and hammered out 27,000 words. I got a job and attempted to take part in NaNoWriMo. Everything was going well with my word count until it wasn’t. My body and mind were freaking out over all the long hours. I’d come home from working eight and a half to nine hours and then I’d write for three hours. I needed to slow everything down. By the end of November, I had 50,000 words although I didn’t win NaNoWriMo. After a few days of rest, I felt energized again and decided to push forward with the story. I stopped at 65,000 words.

My first draft was finished, the new year was coming and I was ecstatic. I wrote my first draft in 3 months and although I was excited, I knew the second draft was going to be a beast. I loved my story, truly, but I also knew it could be better. Just by simply shifting the book from a plot-driven story to a character-driven narrative, I could tell a better story. I started thinking about all the things that needed to change and I began to feel overwhelmed by my own creation. And just like that, I was given a reason to procrastinate when I should have been striking while the iron was hot.

Someone I knew needed a ghostwriter for some articles so I volunteered my time and they volunteered their money or however that normally works. Before I knew it, I was also helping with papers and other things. Don’t judge me. The money was nice and it’s not like I was working on medical papers or any important skills. Plus, I never did it while I was in school because I had a stricter sense of morals back then, I guess. At first, I put the money in my savings account and then I decided to use it to pay off bills. Mainly, the money went towards the credit card debt I’d racked up during my summer of unemployment, interstate moves, and breast cancer examinations and screenings…because “America!”. 

The plan was to start the second draft in February but the months seemed to slip through my fists like sand. Before I knew it, it was May and my first draft was still sitting in my closet on the top shelf in a dusty black binder with notes crowded onto the margins, sticky notes hanging from the sides and multicolored highlights illuminating my favorite passages. It was waiting for me to finish it—to fix it. To make it presentable. It was waiting for me to stop letting other things distract me and keep me from what I really wanted. It was waiting for me to overcome my own subconscious fears of not being good enough. It was waiting for me to open it again and finish what I started.

I Wrote a Book in 3 Months

While I was in school, I’d developed a film treatment and although all my teachers loved the idea, they all thought it was too big for a film. Some of them suggested that I write the story out in book form and then slim it down for a screenplay. I agreed with them. I told my friends and family members that I was going to write a book after graduation; it was supposed to be the story my teachers and I had talked about but a few moments before graduation, I started coming up with new characters and then my mind continued to wonder. What type of world would these characters live in? How did they come to be the way they are? What led them to this point in their lives? What types of problems would they encounter while they’re just trying to survive? What’s next for them? 

And before I knew it, I started writing that new story instead of the story idea my teachers all loved but things didn’t go as planned. I worked on developing the idea and the world and the characters. Then I started working on the outline but for some reason, I could never get it to work. The story was too big for one book. I had to move the starting point of the story further back so we could see how the characters got to where they were. I had to make changes to the world. I had to make so many changes. Eventually, I paused the project to think of ways to fix the problems and just when I was ready to write again, tragedy struck in my personal life and the creative muse escaped my grasping hands. 2017, the year I graduated, had slipped away from me and I didn’t have anything to show for it.

The beginning part of 2018 came and went the same way 2017 did and all my ideas seemed to crack and crumble when closely inspected. It wasn’t until September of 2018 that I realized the year was almost over and I still had nothing to show. So, I bunkered down and threw everything away except the characters that had been living in my mind for a year. I took a good hard look at my characters and wrote a nineteen page outline over the span of three days. In October of 2018 I wrote twenty-seven thousand words, in November of 2018 I wrote twenty-three thousand words and attempted NaNoWriMo, and in December of 2018 I finished off the first draft with an additional fifteen thousand words.

I was able to keep up the pace and finish the draft so fast because I was determined to finish a draft before 2018 was over with. I couldn’t let two years go by without having a book done, not after telling everyone I was going to write a book. And because I was so determined to finish, whenever problems arose, I didn’t allow it to make me stop. My outline was pretty solid so I didn’t have to change much but other things changed while I was writing such as the time period of the book. Originally, I went into this project believing it was going to be a dark fantasy so I’d set it in a medieval-like world but as I wrote, I realized a lot of the imagery I wanted to use would look before in a present day or a near future type of world, plus some of the themes fit better in a more modern world. I also changed the point of view in the book about eight chapters in. It went from third person to first with three different POVs (point of views). I got the idea from a very popular book I was reading at the time, in which there were like eight first person POVs in the book. The book was Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and I enjoyed how the POVs became part of the mystery as well. It was brilliant. And I also changed out the magic system of the story while I was writing the first draft but none of that stopped me from writing. My outline was solid enough to handle the changes and I was determined to complete the project.

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My First Draft

 

I was able to write the first draft of my book in three months and I feel like the experience changed me forever. It made me realize that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything. I’m going to apply that attitude to other parts of my life and hopefully get the same type of results. I’ll keep you updated on my writing journey, I promise. 

2018 Was…

2018 was a very memorable experience for me. I woke up to posts talking about all the negativity in 2018 and yet I don’t remember it. Sure, I’m very aware of the social and political issues of 2018 but in our individual lives, outside of those issues that may affect you personally, 2018 was not a bad year, in my experience.

From my point of view, 2018 was a year of hope and resilience. 2018 was the year that we conquered our fears, we stood up to bullies, and stood our grounds in support of the things we believed in. 2018 was a year of great losses but also a year of great victories. After every shadow that threatened to swallow us in sorrow, came a dawn of warm sunlight and positivity that made us believe in humanity again. Behind every viral video of injustice, there was a video of inspiration and love that helped remind me that the world isn’t so black and white. I was reminded that people are good and can do good when given the chance and the tools to change someone’s life.

2018 was the year that one of my aunts who is in her late 50s and a young lady I knew from high school, who is in her mid 20s, both beat breast cancer. 2018 was also the year I fold out I have a lump in my own breast and although it isn’t cancerous right now, my doctors want to monitor it for the next two years due to my family’s history with cancers. 2018 was the year I thought I had breast cancer. 2018 was the year that I realized that my life could end at the age of 23 and I was forced to ask myself if I was happy with myself, my achievements, and where I was in life. 

2018 was the year I dared to have dreams and hopes for the future.

2018 was the year I lost weight but gained a love and appreciation for myself that I thought I’d already had. 2018 was the year that I vowed to take my health more seriously because the thought of death by preventable diseases scared me.

2018 was the year I moved to a different state only to move back home three months later after the job fell apart and I’d nearly maxed out all of my credit cards.

2018 was the year I made the first move, romantically, even when I’ve been told that women should not. 

2018 was the year I learned a new skill: photography and tried (and failed) to start a photography business. But from this failure, I eased my foot into a different door of opportunity.

2018 was the year I finally got an “adult” job and although I’m still settling in, I can finally see how good it feels to be able to take care of myself financially. 

2018 was the year that I told myself I was going to write a book and so therefore I did. I wrote the first draft of a 257 page novel over the course of three months and realized the only thing standing between me and the things I desire is…me.

2018 wasn’t a horrible year for me. It was a memorable one. A year that taught me lessons I will take into 2019.

What did your 2018 teach you?

Hitting 50k, But Losing NaNoWriMo

This was my second year participating in NaNoWriMo and it was also my second year failing NaNoWriMo. This was definitely one of those “fail again, fail better” moments. Last year I was an emotional wreck and I barely made it past three thousand words. This year I was rolling off the high of writing twenty-seven thousand words in the previous month so I assumed I’d be able to hit the fifty-thousand wordmark inside of NaNoWriMo with no issues. After all, I was writing an average of 2,500 words per day. I was feeling so good about everything, I was even going to buy the winner shirt and one of the mugs from the NaNoWriMo website. Looking back on things, I’m thankful I didn’t.

During the first week of November, everything was good. I was even slightly ahead of the NaNoWriMo word count but by week two, I’d nosed dived. I kept trying to get caught up but life kept getting in the way. And by life I mean work; work kept getting in the way. I started a new job in November and it was my first full-time, salaried job. Sure, I’d worked a few eight-hour shifts here and there, before, but never week in and week out. My body and mind had to adjust to being so productive for eight plus hours and then also having to find the energy to come home and write. My daily word count dropped as the days went on, not just because of work but because of all the family activities I had to patriciate in such as birthday parties, cooking for the holidays, family members from out of state coming to visit, and yearly sickness.Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 1.35.24 PM

By the third week of November I knew I wasn’t going to make it but I was still aiming for at least thirty thousand words and then by the fourth week, I was begging myself for at least twenty-five thousand words and I didn’t even make that but I’m not sad. I did the best I could and most importantly, I enjoyed the journey. 

Even though I didn’t write fifty thousand words in November, I did hit the fifty thousand word mark in my story on November 30, 2018 after just two months of writing. If December turns out to be another twenty-something word month, I’ll finish the first draft of my book in a ninety day span of time, which was my personal goal before deciding to participate in NaNoWriMo.

All in all, I hope this serves as a reminder to all the people who didn’t win NaNoWriMo that some words are better than no words. Any words you wrote in November went towards your story and that’s a victory within itself. 

When Life Is Going Great

My last few posts were all kind of dark so I decided to take a step back and get my life together.

This is what that looks like:

1. I moved back to St. Louis.

I was in Houston, TX for three months before I came crawling back home but to be fair, I didn’t come back because I was homesick, I came back because I was broke. The job that I moved down there for didn’t work out and then the second job I was able to get was horrible and ended with me filing a formal complaint with the company’s HR department due to verbal abuse from my boss. I had such a hard time getting a job because I didn’t have a car. I had several interviewers tell me the reason they were not going to hire me was because I didn’t have a car. It makes sense, sort of, Houston is huge but I was even turned down on a job that was literally across the street from the house I lived in because I didn’t have a car and I was young and they were afraid that if they trained me for the position, I’d leave within the next ten years. No, I’m not making this up. Yes, they did really say this to me but they were also nice enough to give me temp work on the weekends. But the big defining reason why I came back home was that I was broke and in serious credit card debt.  For the majority of my three months in Houston, I lived on my credit cards and my credit score fell from 750 to 702 and now I’m about $4,000 in credit card debt. So yeah, it was time to come home.

2. I lost 10lbs in Houston

I wish I could say it’s because when I moved to Houston I truly did do one of those “New City, New Me” things but it really came down to money. I know what you’re thinking and no, I didn’t starve myself. I did the opposite. While In Houston, I stayed with my very affluent cousins. It was meant to be a stepping stone until I found my own place but when the big job fell through, it became apparent that I might end up staying with them for a much longer period than any of us had imaged. I bring up their money because it’s an important factor in health. They had enough disposable income to buy really healthy food (such as fresh fruits and vegetables) as well as higher grades of meat. So while I was down there, I ate my normal meals with the addition of fresh vegetables and I naturally lost weight. I lost about a pound a week and I feel great.

3. I’m more than 50,000 words (200+ pages) into my novel

I’ve been trying to write a book since I graduated in May of 2017. I’ve tried several times but for one reason or another, I failed. So while I was jobless and feeling sorry for myself, I sat down, scrapped everything but my characters and came up with a new story. I wrote a nineteen-page outline over the span of three days, in September, and started writing the book when I came back home in October. It’s December now and I’m more than two-thirds of the way into the first draft and haven’t made any significant changes. I’m pretty sure I’ll finish this first draft this month. I’m just so excited about this.

4. My first “real” job

In November, I landed my first “real” job a year after graduating from college. I now work at a library making close to triple the amount I made last year and I finally have health insurance. When I tell you life is going great, I really do mean it. I lucked up on this job. I flew home from Houston on a Saturday and by the following Monday, I had a job interview with a bank. After the bank job interview, I didn’t want to go straight home because I wasn’t sure If I landed the job and I didn’t want to think too much about it so I walked to my local library just to say “hi” to the librarians I grew up with. When I stepped in and told them why I was back In St. Louis, they told me they had a job opening and I should apply for it.

When I didn’t hear back from the bank the next day, I applied for the library’s job opening. A week later, I went in and did the interview and test for the position and was called back a few hours later. Because of how poorly I did on one section of the test, I assumed I wasn’t going to get the job. I assumed that they wanted to tell me that face-to-face because we’ve known each other for all these years. But when I arrived, I was informed that there may be an opening for a higher paying position and they wanted to know if I was interested. I told them “yes” and they told me I had to wait a week to have this new position approved by Human Resources. A week passed and I received a phone call from HR informing me of my new job position. I was elated beyond description. I’d been having such crappy luck, job wise, that it’s hard to believe this all happened this way.

I’m just super happy that life is finally going great.

Photo Essay: Fall Vibe

It’s October, my favorite month of the year and I’m freaking excited. I love Fall, I love October, and I live for Halloween. So I did a photo essay to get you in the mood for all of this loveliness, especially since most of the U.S. is above normal temperature for this time of year.

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Hunger

“At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness
We all have a hunger…”
~Florence + the Machine