Groups of conservative provocateurs, QAnon supporters, and others on social media have jumped on the release of the French coming-of-age film Cuties and a trending “Cancel Netflix” hashtag to associate the company with paedophilia.

This isn’t the first time that people have tried to cancel Netflix. Republicans tried it in 2018 following Netflix’s confirmation that it had signed a multiyear deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce a series of titles.

Earlier this year, people threatened to cancel Netflix over 365 Days, a movie that petitioners argued glorified sexual violence against women.

And, at the same time that people are calling for others to cancel Netflix over Cuties, there’s a petition from fans of shows like Jessica Jones, The OA, and Anne with an E, hosting a “cancel Netflix” campaign to try to bring attention to their favourite series that have been cancelled.

But while some of those cancel campaigns are pretty direct — Republicans don’t like the Obamas, Jessica Jones fans just want more Jessica Jones — the Cuties situation gets very complicated very quickly. It moves from people being upset about the way young girls were positioned on a poster in a marketing campaign to QAnon supporters using this as proof that their dangerous conspiracy theories are real.

Alright, let’s back up.

What is Cuties?         

Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties is a French movie that critiques society’s sexualization of girls. The movie follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who dreams of joining a local dance clique. She decides to protest her parents’ strict household and join the other girls in dancing their way through competitions, trying to make a name for themselves.

Cuties uses “uncomfortable images to provoke a serious conversation about the sexualization of girls — especially regarding girls of colour, the policing of a girl’s sexuality, double standards, the effect of social media on kids, and how children learn these behaviours,” one critic wrote on Roger Ebert. 

Doucouré’s intent is to show “that our children should have the time to be children,” she told TIME magazine this month. In using imagery about exploited youth, Doucouré wants to hit home just how important innocence is, and how much it’s taken for granted today.

The film even won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival this year, and it was widely praised for its depiction of the pressures of girlhood. Netflix secured the global streaming rights to the film, with Variety noting at the time that Cuties would be translated into more than 40 languages. Under the Netflix umbrella, the film would stream in 190 different territories that Netflix operates in, excluding France where it had domestic distribution.

Attacks on the movie began before people had even seen the film. Criticisms lobbed against Cuties and Doucouré came from people who saw a poster and assumed the film was one thing, and as the backlash grew, it became apparent that criticism was disingenuous, based on preconceived notions of what the movie was without having sat down to watch it. Which is why Netflix only made it worse.

Netflix’s gaffe               

Despite the film existing for some time, it wasn’t until August that people really became aware of it.

In August, Netflix tweeted a teaser for the movie’s release date that came with a new poster. Designed by Netflix’s team, the new poster seemed to present a different type of movie than the one Doucouré made. The original French poster framed the main cast of girls as that young girls, walking through the streets of Paris, waving around shopping bags and having fun. Netflix’s now-deleted poster positioned the girls as older characters, similar to posters for other dance movies like Step Up. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

Alongside all of the criticism and backlash that led to #CancelNetflix trending, there’s also been a show of support for Doucouré and Cuties. Several film critics have tweeted positively about the movie and the director, alongside their own published reviews.

Their words echo the message that Doucouré worked to show in her film: giving the audience a chance to experience what it’s like “to become a little 11-year-old girl in today’s society and not judge her,” as she told film site Shadow and Act. Netflix also issued a statement decrying the criticism and supporting Doucouré’s film.

“Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson told The Verge. “It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

Cuties’ message can get lost in the sea of backlash, online rage, and conspiracy theories that have found themselves attached to the film, but Doucouré wanted to tell a story that was close to her own life. In interviews she’s given, she’s expressed hope that people will watch the movie before they make a decision about whether they think it’s good or bad.

“My one message would be that childhood is precious and we all have to protect our children,” she told Shadow and Act.

“We all have to come together to figure out what is best for our children so that we can give a beautiful space to our children to grow up safely and peacefully so that they can have the freedom to choose who they want to become and the best version of themselves.”