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Liberation or Exploitation? The Controversy Behind ‘Cuties’ and ‘365 Days’

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Label Editor, Emily Jackson, explores the controversy surrounding two of Netflix’s recent releases.

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussion about rape and sexual violence.

From the antics of Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ to the luxurious mansions and lives of those in ‘Selling Sunset’, everybody had something to watch. However, there were two Netflix releases in particular which came under scrutiny: ‘365 Days’ and ‘Cuties’. Some argued that these films explored female liberation through sex or through the journey of adolescence. Whereas many believed that these films were an epicentre of exploitation – whether it be through the plots or, through the portrayal.

‘365 Days’ is a romance centred around a young woman named Laura who is kidnapped by Massimo, a member of the Sicilian Mafia family, and is given 365 days to fall in love with him. The film was compared to the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy due to the large amount of sex scenes, many of those being rough. These sexual scenes in the film were heavily criticised due to its soft-core themes and the sexual violence depicted and, in many ways, romanticised. ‘365 Days’ had 10 days at #1 in the US Netflix’s chart, making it the second highest in the chart’s history. Whilst the film was streamed massively, petitions were made from all across the world with over tens-of-thousands of signatures calling to remove the film from the platform. ‘365 Days’ focusses on the idea of Stockholm syndrome, however, whilst doing this, the film glamorises kidnap, rape, sexual violence and even drugging women – something Massimo does on more than one occasion. Another point to mention is that Massimo, a handsome, muscular man, is seen as sexy and “the dominant” for kidnapping Laura. However, if Massimo was similar in looks to somebody like Hannibal Lector or the evil surgeon from ‘The Human Centipede’, this film would be classed as a horror. According to ‘365 Days’, if you’re a dishy man, drugging women and kidnapping them is seen as alluring.

On the other hand, there were very mixed viewpoints on the film ‘Cuties’. The film is a coming-of-age drama film revolving around Amy, a young Senegalese-French girl from a traditional Muslim family who discovers the world of social media and internet culture. Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, many believed the film sexualised children, some even argued it was borderline child porn. Others believed that the film showed the upbringing of young girls in this current day and age, with the increased use of social media and understanding your self-image. Whilst the plot seems completely reasonable and could make for a film concentrating on self-liberation, perhaps it was the portrayal of the story which caused the most controversy. In a world of social media and internet culture, twerking and ‘provocative dancing’ is the norm. Even though ‘Cuties’ focusses on internet culture, we do not want to see young girls twerking and being sexually provocative. Many celebrities and journalists, however, came to defend the film. Such as actress Tessa Thompson, who tweeted:

Yes, ‘Cuties’ does comment “on the hyper-sexualisation of preadolescent girls”. Whilst I agree the film does comment on this, the film also does show the main character taking a picture of her vulva and posting it online. When reading a summary of the film, it could have made a very liberating, fresh and evocative film. Perhaps it was the marketing or, the execution of the film – maybe even both? I mean, even the poster on Netflix features young girls, around the age of 11, dressed in very “adult” outfits.

Whilst the debate between sexual liberation or exploitation still continues with the films ‘365 Days’ and ‘Cuties’, it can be argued that ‘365 Days’ has problems with the plot and portrayal whereas ‘Cuties’ has an issue with the portrayal of the young girls in the film. When these problems arise, should we blame the directors of the films or, should we blame Netflix? Netflix, after all, markets and releases the film. But, Netflix didn’t write and create the films too. There are many ways to produce films which focus on female empowerment but in the cases of ‘Cuties’ and ‘365 Days’, there seems to be a fine line between liberation and sexual exploitation.


Header designed by Christos Leo Alamaniotis – Assistant Head of Design

Article Edited by Sophie Alexander – Entertainment Editor

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Label Entertainment Editor 2020-21

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