Netflix removed a promotional image that showed girls posing in skimpy clothes in a new movie called Cuties.
The French drama poster, along with a trailer, had sparked online disapproval and a petition calling on Netflix to abandon it.
The award-winning drama follows an 11-year-old boy who joins a dance group. Its creator says it aims to address the problem of girls’ sexualization.
Netflix said it was “deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork”.
The streaming giant also claimed that the original poster was not an accurate depiction of the film.
The image, along with the film’s name and evocative dance sequences, initially sparked an online scandal.
A petition claiming to “sexualize an 11-year-old child for the pleasure of seeing pedophiles” attracted 25,000 signatures in less than 24 hours
But director Maimouna Doucouré explained that the story aims to highlight how social media pushes girls to imitate sexualized images without fully understanding what lies behind or the dangers involved.
She said she decided to explore the subject after she was shocked to see a group of girls around 11 sensual dancing in revealing outfits.
“I saw that some very young girls were being followed by 400,000 people on social media and I tried to understand why,” she told CineEuropa.
“There were no particular reasons other than the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing photos: this was what brought them this ‘fame’.
“Today, the more sexy and objectified a woman is, the more value she has in the eyes of social media. And when you are 11, you don’t really understand all these mechanisms, but you tend to imitate, to do the same thing as others to achieve a similar result. .
“I think it is urgent that we talk about it, that there is a debate on the subject”.
Cuties follows the story of 11-year-old Amy, from Senegal, torn between the traditional and conservative lifestyle of her family and the escape offered by nearby Angelica and her dance band.
It earned Franco-Senegalese director Doucouré the World Dramatic Director Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
It just came out in French cinemas under its original name Mignonnes.
It is not a Netflix Original and will arrive on the platform next month. Many people on social media have criticized the depictions.
After the poster sparked online controversy, Netflix told BBC News: “This was not an accurate depiction of the film, so the image and description have been updated.”
The streaming giant later tweeted: “We deeply regret the inappropriate artwork we used for Mignonnes / Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film that won an award at Sundance. We have now updated the images and description.”
‘Eye-catching but wobbly’
Reviews from film critics at Sundance have been widely receptive.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film “captivating but structurally flaky” and said it portrays a “critical view of a culture that orients impressionable girls to hypersexualize their bodies.”
Screen Daily said that “the sight of twerking pre-teen bodies is explicitly designed to shock the mature audience in a contemplation of the destruction of today’s innocence.”
The site also pointed out that Doucouré had created “outrageous musical montages involving close-up shots of the pouting pre-teens horse.”
He added: “Doucouré seems to want to provoke censorship, but he fails precisely because he is trying so hard. Ultimately, this is the fate that also happens to Amy as she learns the dangers of the Internet and the limits of the selfie.”
More recently in France, Le Monde compared the moment of Amy’s transformation with “when Olivia Newton-John entered the scene at the end of Grease turned into a sex bomb, in front of a stunned John Travolta”.
His critic wrote: “The filmmaker cleverly refrains from judging the very explicit sexualization of the dances. During the outdoor dance competition where the Mignonnes perform, explosively, the camera just films the faces of the spectators and of the jury, where you can read a multitude of reactions “.
Doucouré’s other awards include the inaugural Academy Gold Fellowship Award for Women, awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body behind the Oscars, last year. According to Variety, the accolade came with a $ 22,000 (£ 16,600) grant to help finish Cuties.
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