By Anna Lynne Frazier
The overwhelming response to Netflix’s new movie, Cuties, tells us something interesting about our society. As the 11% viewer rating on Rotten Tomatoes or the trending “#CancelNetflix”show, people are outraged by the film. Why? Because even in our hyper-sexualized culture, we draw the line at sexualizing children.
Let me state the obvious: this is a good line to have.
The sexualization of children is profane. And we should be morally outraged by this. Many voices are rightly condemning this film, the streaming service that hosts and promotes it, and the filmmakers who created it.
Proponents of the film (including Netflix) argue that Cuties is a commentary on (and critique of) the sexualization of children. It’s a story of a pre-teen girl trying to navigate her femininity and self-image in a grown-up world that celebrates sexual women. Girls see what gets ‘likes’ on social media. And then they emulate it, not because they understand it, but because they want the same affirmation. Frankly, the observations made in Cuties are poignant and relatable.
The problem is, in order to use film to tell the story of sexualized young girls… you have to sexualize young girls.
The actresses who portray the children in the movie are really children. And they are really displaying their bodies and really dancing provocatively for a real adult audience. Is the social commentary worth this real sexual exploitation of minors?
As Hannah Anderson points out in a recent Christianity Today article, Jesus is outraged by this too. And “Jesus’s strong words [in Matthew 18] do not stem from a selective focus on child trafficking or pedophilia. Instead, they are rooted in a holistic understanding of the goodness of childhood and the unique role that children play in God’s kingdom.”
So, in the midst of the anger and calls for action, another (related) question needs to be addressed:
How did we get here?
What did we as a society have to say “yes” to in order for a high-earning corporation like Netflix to think Cuties was a good investment? How have we wandered so far from valuing people — particularly children — as image bearing participants in the kingdom of God?
We didn’t jump from wholesome family content to little girls twerking in a movie trailer overnight. That’s not how the entertainment industry works. We as a society have become more and more okay with explicit sexual content for decades.
Now, we look at the TV-MA ratings of all the hit new dramas and accept it as normal. By watching, we say “yes” to more multi-minute sex scenes that we “have to” watch because they contain dialogue that moves the plot forward. We say “yes” to the reality that actresses have to get naked in order to secure a starring role on a new made-for-streaming show. And with our “yeses,” we exchange the dignity and humanity of those real people for our end goal: to be entertained. (But then we wonder why the porn industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined).
Check out the Ten Minute Bible Talks episode, “Should Christians Watch Game of Thrones?”, for further conversation about this shift in entertainment.
And the uncomfortable reality is, this is true for more than just sex. We’ve loosened our morals and hardened our consciences in areas of emotional manipulation, physical violence, cruel humor and cutting words, all because we prioritize what is entertaining over what is good.
Moral outrage can be a good thing. It’s the response of our conscience when we see something very, very wrong. When we respond thoughtfully, it leads us to examine the world around us through the lens of what God says is right and wrong. However, moral outrage can also be a distraction that makes us point the finger at “those” evil people rather than confronting us with our own sin.
Cuties is one example of a far bigger problem.
So, as followers of Jesus who are watching this controversy unfold, we need to go further than this one movie.
We must ask ourselves some hard questions:
- How am I complicit?
- What do I say “yes” to when I choose my entertainment?
- How am I contributing to the exploitation and dehumanization of people made in the image of God?
- Where does my hard heart see “normal” instead of “profane”?
The answers to these questions will reveal unpleasant truths, but also clear steps forward. Jesus calls us to do more than shake our heads at the depravity of the world around us. Instead, he asks us to participate with him in its redemption. To build his Kingdom on earth. That kingdom-building must start with ourselves.
Learn more about how the movies and shows we watch shape who we are in this blog post: You Are What You Consume.