Christian Toto, Columnists, Exclusives, Media, National

Toto: ‘Cuties’ dust-up magnifies double standard on cancel culture

The mainstream media mostly shrugs at the toxic trend dubbed Cancel Culture.

Few outlets rail against it. Some tread carefully around the topic, employing qualifiers like “so-called” Cancel Culture, as if all the examples of people losing their jobs, and worse, never happened.

J.K. Rowling, Kevin Hart, Roseanne Barr and many lesser known folks beg to differ.

Some left-leaning outlets rage against those attempting to defend, not strip away, free speech. Several saw last year’s prescient docudrama, “No Safe Spaces,” as an affront to civil society instead of a cultural warning we ignored at our own current peril.

We’re seeing something very different related to the upcoming Netflix feature “Cuties.” The film, a French import, scored huzzahs at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The drama is set to show on Netflix Sept. 9.

The story follows an 11-year-old girl, a Muslim immigrant, exposed to a group of pre-teen dancers. Netflix proudly presented the drama as part of its willingness to elevate voices of color. The film’s writer/director, Maïmouna Doucouré, is black.

The trouble with “Cuties” began when people started sharing the Netflix film’s poster on social media. The image, now withdrawn, showed the movie’s pre-teen cast dressed up in mature dance wear. Their poses proved more troublesome. The girls pouted and posed as if they were auditioning for a Madonna world tour.

Again, the characters in question are roughly the same age as the main character.

11 years of age.

The Netflix-approved teaser description proved equally vile.

“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”

The cultural outrage was swift, and in this case wholly justified.

Netflix, caught flat footed, quickly yanked the image from both its press site and the streaming service itself.

“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description,” the streaming giant told Deadline.com.

Left unsaid: Who approved the ad campaign? Will there be repercussions of any kind? How could such an obviously abhorrent ad campaign make it to arguably the world’s biggest streaming platform in the first place?

The media didn’t seem curious about those questions. Instead, reporters insisted the movie itself doesn’t reflect the ad campaign (possible). Then, select sites attacked the poster’s critics as the real villains of the story.

“The Angry Christian Right Should Watch Netflix’s ‘Cuties,’” blared a Daily Beast headline.

“People across the political spectrum have expressed rightful concern about the streaming giant’s choice of a photo of twerking pre-teen girls in revealing outfits as a way to garner interest in the film, and Netflix has accepted responsibility for the misstep. But calls for the film’s release to be canceled altogether are deeply misguided and reactionary.”

What we need to do, the article suggests, is look at the film and the issues it raises with more nuance, more understanding.

Wonderful. And that’s exactly what Cancel Culture relentlessly avoids.

Context. Meaning. Nuance. Yet Cancel Culture endures with the tacit approval of the press.

Vulture.com huffed that people were jumping the gun on the matter.

As the film has not yet been widely released in the United States, it seems safe to say the scores of people signing these petitions have not actually seen the film. Or even watched the trailer.

A film’s poster often speaks volumes about its content. We’ve been conditioned to expect nothing less. So it’s understandable that the film could be, in theory, as exploitative as the marketing campaign.

Vulture says it’s “insulting” to the film’s director to connect the ad campaign to her film. No, it’s a culture realistically worried about a Hollywood eco-system which routinely sexualizes kids under 18. The just-released film “Yes, God, Yes” does a variation of just this with its 16-year-old main character.

Vulture also slammed noted conservatives like Dana Loesch and Jack Posobeic for their online outrage.

AdAge provided a more balanced assessment of the matter, but connected the kerfuffle to QAnon, the conspiracy-laced online network.

We saw virtually no mainstream media outrage when HBO Max pulled “Gone with the Wind” off its cyber shelves and, later, returned it along with an insulting “trigger warning” prior to the movie. The platform recently did something similar with “Blazing Saddles,” an iconic comedy that pokes repeated fun at racists.

And when HBO considered a provocative series called “Confederate,” an alternate reality in which American slavery never went away, the voices calling for its cancellation, before a single script was written, essentially doomed the project.

Once again, the mainstream media didn’t defend creative expression.

“Cuties” critics, while justified in slamming the ad campaign, should be more open minded about the film itself. On that front the reporters are correct.

Cancelling art, sight unseen, is a slippery, and dangerous slope and one now associated with the Left.

Now, let’s hope reporters start applying nuance, context and most importantly outrage, the next time Cancel Culture rears its misbegotten head.

Christian Toto is the editor of the Colorado-based HollywoodInToto.com.

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