The Netflix film, Cuties, generated much controversy even before it was released on the platform. My take: Cuties would work in a perfect world, but our world is anything but.
Here's what I mean: if Cuties could be released exclusively to an audience of only adult women, it works. It creeps me out to think of a guy, any guy, watching this film. In this imperfect world of ours where fathers rape daughters and uncles touch little girls inappropriately, I am disgusted with the thought of those kinds of men watching these pre-pubescent girls twerk.
Yet, that is the philosophical dilemma of societal commentary: in an attempt to comment on the hypersexualized world that we live in, Cuties, itself, is hypersexualized. And when I say hypersexualized, I really, really mean it.
Aminatu and the other girls in the Cuties dance group break out some sexualized moves I have not even seen grown women do. My heart broke constantly watching this film, but I feel the need to be systematic about how I critic and review this film because this film calls for that.
A Short Synopsis for those who haven't seen it:
Cuties follows the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Amy Diop, who has just moved into a new housing project in Paris along with her mother and two little brothers. We learn that her father is back in Senegal, taking a new, younger wife and will be joining them soon. Amy seeks solace in a girl dance group called "Cuties." The Cuties are very aware of the sexualized nature of society and are desperate to prove they are not little girls. They bare their midriffs, dance suggestively, and use curse words. We see Amy struggle to balance her home life and her Muslim-Senegalese upbringing with the dramatic "freedom" that the Cuties' lifestyle seems to offer.
A Critical Look At Cuties
I am breaking my critique into two main points:
Westernization (West is Better) Narrative
1. The protagonist's name in Aminatu. If it is to be shortened, the spelling should be "Ami," not the Western-friendly "Amy." Yet, even the Netflix subtitles have it as "Amy." Aminatu and her family are newcomers. It's unclear whether they are new to that particular area (housing project) or if they just arrived from Senegal, the latter being more likely. Either way, Aminatu is new to the area, new to the school and she does not even get the dignity of having her name spelled right. In her first meeting with the Cuties, they bully her, throwing her books on the ground and calling her names, among which is "Senegal." On her social media page, Aminatu spells her name "Amy," probably to escape the "stink" of being non-Western. Every immigrant with a non-Western name can relate to Aminatu's experience. As someone with a non-Western name, it was interesting to see the director, Maïmouna Doucouré, committing the same blunder she was critiquing.
2. In pop culture, there is an existing narrative that Western culture equals "free" and "uninhibited" while non-Western culture/families are negatively portrayed and viewed as "conservative" and "restrictive." And of course, in this narrative, Western is better: "If you can just be Western, you will be happy." Doucouré initially plays into this dichotomy, showing Amy happy as she goes shopping with stolen money and sad/tired/oppressed as she slices onion after onion in the kitchen. Then Doucouré actively works to dismantle the narrative:
When we first meet Aminatu, she takes the time to torture her little brother with ghost stories so he can sleep; she playfully portions out cereal for him. She even takes the time to tuck her baby brother to sleep and give him a peck. This is non-Western Aminatu.
When Amy becomes "free," her mother falls to the ground in a faint and Amy cannot even be bothered to get up from the dinner table. Amy locks her little brother in a bathroom for (probably) hours so he doesn't bother her and her new friend. She steals from her mother, pushes one of her "friends" into the river so she could take her place in the dance team, and posts naked pictures. Amy is self
Doucouré cleverly draws a comparison between Amy and Aminatu and asks the viewer to judge: who is really "free"?
I don't know, I think I'd take Aminatu.
Portrayal and Treatment of Women/Girls
1. But life's not perfect for Aminatu. And this is arguably what pushes her to be a Cutie. After all, if her mother - who was doing everything right - could still lose her husband to a second wife, what was the point of being a "good" woman?
Although only eleven, Aminatu was already being groomed to be a "woman" and in so many African (pardon my generalization), that usually comes with a ton of responsibility. Less than five minutes into the film, Amy has to sit with much older women as they listen to an off-camera speaker expound on the importance of piety and virtue while her Ismaeli, her little brother, sits only a few feet away engaging in carefree play.
Right after this, Aminatu walks in on a girl her age dancing with reckless abandon with the same carefreeness that Ismaeli her bother has and we see Aminatu fascinated with the idea of being so carefree, so unencumbered, so "apparently" childish.
My heart bled for Mariam, not just because of her plight but because hers is the plight of so many women in West Africa. Although hurt and embarrassed by her husband's decision to take another wife, it would even be more embarrassing to her "face" as a woman if she did not put up a supportive face, one that showed the Senegalese community that she was perfectly fine with her husband sleeping with another woman just down the hall from her children's room.
2. On Hypersexualization
Although this is the aspect of the film that has been getting the loudest comments, I don't really have a lot to add to the conversation.
I don't think I can ever watch another music video without wondering if the video girl is gyrating to the music because she wants to or because she thinks she has to. I think the saddest part of this whole film is the hypocrisy that it reveals in our society. We live in a society where "sex sells," and not much is done to protect little children for that. So to be completely affronted and behave completely shocked when little girls mimic what they see on their television screens or on the trending section of YouTube is not just hypocritical, it is a little sad. Banning Cuties would not solve the societal problem of hypersexuality but in true American fashion, anything that shines a light on the dark underbelly of society must be to go.
Cuties is an educational film. Doucouré does a fantastic job commenting on so many aspects of society: women oppression, hypersexualization, immigrant oppression, even bulimia. At one point, she shows Yasmine forcing herself to throw up in the bathroom before she rejoins the group as if to say that Yasmine could only be a part of the group if she is skinny.
However, the ending of the film left a little to be desired. Aminatu' story is resolved too quickly and there are no consequences for her behavior. She posts a picture of nude picture of herself online and almost drowns a person, but she is now wearing age-appropriate clothes and playing jump rope, so all is forgiven? Nah.
Cuties both works and it doesn't. The director falls into the same traps she is criticizing but at least she shines a light on this broken part of our society. Let's try to do better.
"The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old."
I was reading Proverbs 20 earlier this morning when I came across this verse. And I was reminded that every season of life is important. If we look for it, there truly is beauty in every moment.
In our current social media culture where a glimpse into someone else's life is just a click away, it is so easy to engage in the toxic act of comparing.
People with 20k followers can't wait till they have a 100k.
Those who are single pringles can't wait to get married.
And those who are married can't wait to have kids... the list goes on.
We spend our life wishing and waiting for the next big thing, ignoring what we have in our hands right now. Moses went from a shepherd to the leader of a nation, and it all started with his shepherd's staff. In Exodus 4, the Lord asked him: "what is in your hand?" This simple shepherd staff would go on to have a starring role in one of the biggest miracles ever: parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16).
I guess my point is that what you have right now is valuable. As a young person, the strength in your bones is valuable. Enjoy it, use it. And if you are older, you have an indisputable wisdom that comes with experience. Appreciate it, use it.
Enjoy where you are today, my loves, because it doesn't last forever.
There's beauty in every moment that God created because God created it. See it, believe it, trust it.
Chadwick always seemed larger than life. His infectious smile lit up the screen and sort of just warmed your heart. His work inspired us to dream, to dare, to be more. 42 was the first film about black history in America that I ever saw, and when Black Panther was released in 2018, I had never been more proud to be black.
Chadwick was the epitome of black excellence. He showed us that being black is a gift long before the world said it was okay to be black.
Chadwick, thank you. It was a privilege to watch you. We will miss you on our screens. We will miss you in our hearts, but I couldn't be more thankful that you are in a better place where colon cancer can never hurt you again. You're with the One who loves you more than life itself and that makes me happy.
Adekunle Gold's transformation from Adékúnlé Gold of Gold, his debut album, to AG Baby of Afro Pop, Vol. 1 is a curious case of Benjamin Button syndrome. You know...because he aged his image backwards. He even has "baby" in his new moniker. 😂
But this transformation, this reverse-aging, is not necessarily a bad thing. I loved the Adékúnlé Gold of Gold and so did my parents. His sound transcended generations such that every time we were on a long drive, my dad would request his album with excitement. However, his new sound is transcendent, in its own way. After all, it is very telling of Adekunle's talent that he is able to transform so radically and yet, remain quite relevant.
Let's see what he packed into this album, shall we?
Before Twice As Tall began streaming, I had read quite a few reviews - all of them brimming with praise for Burna Boy's latest body of work. Then I listened to the album and I couldn't quite believe my ears. This is it? I wondered aloud to myself and my brother as the album played loudly on the car stereo. But I swallowed my disillusion and decided to listen again. This time, I sat with my headphones and my fingers poised above the keyboard:
Twice As Tall? You decide.
Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps is a tough act to follow. I didn't actually review it, but I don't think I needed to: we were all kind of in awe of Fireboy DML's genius.
APOLLO is miles away from Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps and I have mixed feelings about that. In some ways, that's a great thing because #growth, yet I can't help feeling nostalgic for the magic and, dare I say innocence, embodied in his debut album. Let's review the album track by track, shall we?
Two days ago, I received bad news. My story did not make the list. I am not a stranger to rejections or sending in submissions that go unanswered, but this one really, really stung. You know that pain when you stub your little toe on the edge of your bed or on the door sill? Yeah, that's how it felt.
I had been waiting for months (months!) to hear the result of the competition. And y'all, I had put in so much work into my entry: reading and re-reading, staying up late to make sure I met the deadline, to make sure that I was putting my best foot forward. This was, literally and figuratively, my best. Yet it was not good enough. I did not even make the list of "notable contenders."
As soon as I saw that my name was not on the list, the Holy Spirit went straight into Comfort Mode.
"The Lord has a plan," He whispered. "Everything works out together for your good," He assured me. "I'm right here, Ronke. Right here."
I was hearing it all, but it wasn't sticking. My mind was already in overdrive. Doubt, fear and insecurity fell over me like a wet, heavy blanket.
"Maybe this writing thing is not for me," I reasoned.
My brain latched onto that thought, the devil fanning the flames. I thought about my recent writer's block on a book I am working on. I thought about the mediocre performance of my self-published book. And then I took it to another level, one we are all familiar with: comparing.
I compared myself to Chimamanda (laughable really, as if we are even remotely on the same level). Then, I thought of Tomi Adeyemi and her huge success with the Children of Blood and Bone series.
The Lord did not let up, though. He kept reminding me that He was there, that He was still God, that He had a plan, that I should trust Him to always be on my side. I heard it all, but it was hard to listen, even harder to trust when the list before me said otherwise.
An hour or two later, I had calmed down, but only a little. I didn't feel it, but years of sermons and Sunday school taught me to say, "I don't understand, Lord, but thank You that it happened."
My heart, though, was screaming: "I feel like a failure."
As I always do when I am feeling too much, I picked up my laptop to write.
However, for the first time in a really long time, my fingers hovered over the keyboard in doubt, fear, and anxiety.
"What's the point?" I thought to myself, "It's not like it's good enough to be published anyway. My writing is rubbish."
Just then, at the exact right time, the Lord retorted, "Those are My words you are talking about. It's not rubbish."
It was exactly what I needed to hear. It's true my story was rejected, yet I am not a failure because I have a gift inside me.
These words in my head, these words I write are a gift - a talent - from the Word Himself and they will "achieve the purpose for which He sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)
So, dear reader, you're not a failure. Whatever your talents are, they came from God. And because God doesn't fail, you are not a failure. What you have inside of you, Who you have inside of you, is strong and real and greater than what people say (1 John 4:4). And I promise, you will succeed.
Just keep trusting and listening, even when you don't understand.
It was that time of the year when the semester is winding down to a close and students don't go to campus unless there is a final exam or an emergency, or an emergency final exam.
I was only going to submit grades to the professor I was working with at the time, so I kinda, sorta, looked like crap. Okay, let me clarify: I was in an old pair of jean shorts and my favorite worn-out T-shirt (see picture above). I was going for comfy over cute, okay?
Anyway, I finished my errand at school and headed back home to continue obsessing over my final papers. I had just gotten off my highway exit when I realized my car needed gas. Like the need-to-do-it-now-or-else-I-will-obsess-about-it person that I am, I dutifully turned into the gas station.
As soon as I got to the pump and climbed out of my car, he was the first thing I saw. He had a white luxury sedan (I have always been a sucker for white cars).
His car was parked at the pump in front of me, facing my car. And I immediately thought to myself: He's cute. Too bad he's already married or taken.
I didn't see a ring on his hand. Heck, I didn't even see his hand, but in my experience, guys that looked like him were decidedly not on the market. So, I decided to mind my business: I slid my card into the point of sale and lifted the fuel nozzle from the pump.
Out of "curiosity," I snuck a glance at his general direction and he was looking right at me.
Y'all. Y'all, y'all, my heart thudded. Honestly, it felt like my heart slammed against my rib cage for a second. I quickly put the nozzle in my fuel tank and ran back inside my car because I'm a coward.
I sat there for a full ten seconds, my eyes lowered because I'm a coward. I finally dared to look up and he seemed to be cleaning his car? Maybe I'm just conceited, but it seemed to me like he was finding reasons to stay at the gas station.
The next time I looked up, he was looking at me again and I smiled (If I was too much of a coward to walk up to him, the least I could do was to encourage him). But honestly, I don't know if it looked like an encouraging smile. Dude, I could barely feel my face by this point.
Just then, the fuel nozzle notified me that my tank was full, so I came out of my car to replace the nozzle. Just as I was about to get into the driver's seat and drive away, he said "hey," and began to walk over.
If I could scream in that moment without him or anyone else hearing, I would have. In that moment, I was dying. I was alive. I was sweating, but I was also shivering.
He asked me my name; I said "Ronke." I think he asked me to repeat it, but he didn't do that weird thing with his face that white people do when they hear a name that they can't pronounce.
I think we had a little banter about the city where we live or something, but I'm not sure. I was too busy trying to remember if I used deodorant that morning. I wasn't wearing makeup, but "please," I mentally begged myself, "tell me you at least used body spray."
What I do remember, though, was that he said I was cute and that he would like my number. Of course I gave it to him, I'm not stupid. Then he went in for a hug and I froze for a millisecond:
What if I smelled of sweat? Florida humidity don't play.
I still hugged him though. A few seconds later, he walked back to his car and it was over. I put my car in Drive and sped out of the gas station. As soon as I was sure he couldn't see me, I let out the squeal I had been holding back the entire time.
I immediately called my sister and two of my closest girlfriends. I kept screaming the entire time: "I just had my first meetcute!"
I'm sure they were annoyed by my squealing, but it's not every day that a girl meets a cute guy at a gas station. It's not every day that a girl who kinda, sorta, looks like crap has a cute guy tell her that she is cute.
Plus he saw my T-shirt read, "TEAM JESUS," so there was no need to wonder if he loved the Lord. He wouldn't have walked up to me if he wasn't also on Team Jesus, right?
We need to learn to talk about things.
As much as we wish it, the world doesn't stop at the church doors.
Worldly, horrible acts seep into the crevices of the church: from incest to rape to sexual assault to embezzlement to domestic violence.
And yes, even racism and prejudice.
We've become so concerned with not offending people that we don't even wonder if we are offending the Lord as a result.
Seriously, we've gotten so good at not talking about it.
Yet, just because your church sponsors missions to black and brown countries doesn't exempt you from these conversations.
Just because you love the Lord does not mean that you are not prejudiced. Neither does it mean you have not unwittingly hurt someone with your privilege.
David loved the Lord, yet he murdered a man and stole his wife.
Y'all, we are supposed to be better than this. We are supposed to be the light of the world.
We should be at the forefront of the fight of all things darkness: racism, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, and so on.
Instead, for far too long, we have hidden the sins in the church, posturing ourselves as perfect while our light grows dimmer and dimmer.
But no more.
We have an opportunity here. We have a chance to do better.
To make Jesus proud. To do what He would.
To talk with those hurt by the unspoken racism and prejudice of the world.
To repent of our own prejudices.
And to heal together with the love that Jesus died to prove.
Y'all, we have a choice. To make black lives matter. The way the Lord created them to.
I feel it. I know you feel it, too.
Your voice hoarse from screaming at the injustice, your eyes bleary from sleepless nights, your tear ducts tired of producing tears. The weight hangs on your shoulders, heavy and ceaseless. It would be easy to just focus on something else. Change the subject. Maybe then this won’t hurt so much. Maybe then, it would be easier to just...breathe.
But, nothing has changed. The other three officers are still free. Derek Chauvin has not been convicted.
We can’t talk about something else.
I feel it. I know you feel it, too.
The fever is slightly abating. The weekend is over. People have to go back to work and some, to summer classes. Protesting is no longer “fun.” (Some) Influencers with large online platforms have put up their obligatory #blacklivesmatter post. It’s time to move on.
The naysayers are getting happier, their tweets more vicious, because they predicted this, that things would eventually return to “normal.”
But they can’t. Something has to change. We can’t talk about something else.
Over the past few days, I have felt like a sponge: absorbing information from media outlets, watching horrifying video after video, reading the privileged tweets of all-lives-matter enthusiasts who are uncomfortable that a moment of history that is not about them, watching the child-in-a-suit who is legally the country’s president worsen the situation, and I am full. Sick. Tired. Overwhelmed.
Words seem trite. Sentiments and platitudes feel ingratiating.
A man died, and nothing we say, nothing we write can bring him back.
A man was killed in broad daylight. A 46-year-old man cried out for his mother as he lay under the knee of an officer who was determined to subdue him. It didn’t matter that George Floyd could not breathe. All that mattered to Derek Chauvin and the other fools-in-uniform was that Floyd be suppressed till he was no longer a “threat.”
So, they killed him. After all, how else does one eliminate the threat of an unarmed black man whose hands were handcuffed but to kill him? How else do four white-skinned officers threatened by the blackness of one officer get rid of the threat? God forbid that a white person feel threatened in their “land of the free.”
Nah, all threats have to go and America must be great again.
I guess I should not be surprised. This behavior has historical precedent: grabbing the lands of (brown) Native Americans and killing them off with smallpox, for instance.
For people who have the audacity to dispute the wrongness of Floyd’s death, for those who admit that this incident is wrong but claim that it is an isolated incident or that it has nothing to do with Floyd’s blackness, and then head to church this morning to sing “Waymaker,” I am praying for you.
Don’t misunderstand: I am enraged at your ignorance and disgusted that you claim to love the Lord but care very little for those He loves.
I am praying that you realize that your “Waymaker” is not a fan of hypocrites. I am praying that the eyes of your white privilege be opened.
But please, please, please, if you are not going to help black lives matter, then get the hell out of our way.
Picture pulled from: https://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/imagecache/mbdxxlarge/mritems/Images/2020/5/29/187d4fb6a7c6459e8256afd01df59e68_18.jpg
Hi there beautiful people.
I know it's been a while. As my little cousin would say, "Sorry!" (Imagine this in a cute chipmunk voice)
Onto the list, dear friends!
Access the Spotify playlist by clicking here (or listen below)
I was going to start this piece off by calling Shaun an idiot. However, after watching him confront Lea on last night’s episode (S03E18), I can’t seem to summon the vitriol anymore. Mostly because I think he finally realizes how idiotic he has been. And it’s not as fun to kick someone when they’re down, you know?
The Good Doctor centers around a brilliant surgical resident, Shaun, who is also autistic. In the current season (S3), Shaun is caught in a love-triangle of sorts. The incredibly ridiculous Carly/Shaun/Lea triangle.
Laughable, really. As if Lea can hold a candle to Carly in the girlfriend department. Honestly, Carly should be given the Oscars-equivalent for Best Girlfriend.
But maybe I’m biased. Let’s examine the facts, shall we?
When we first meet Lea, she is literally the girl-next-door. She breezes past Shaun’s autistic barrier to social interactions and worms her way into his affections. She doesn’t mind that he is autistic. Instead, she seems to like that he is autistic. One time, she even says that he is not like other guys. She takes him out of his comfort zone: road-tripping, driving, drinking, even giving him his first kiss. Perfect, romantic teenage-y stuff, right? No, because Lea drops him like a hot potato almost immediately, claiming that she just wants to be friends and moves right out of San Jose before he could say Dillalo.
Just when Shaun starts to become okay without her, she moves back to San Jose, right into his house and they become roommates. Poor, confused Shaun. Like he needs this much drama in his first situation-ship.
Thankfully, the writers realized that Shaun needs some sanity in his life, so at the end of season 2, Shaun asks another doctor out on a date. Her name is Carly and she has sense. Did I mention that she has sense? Yeah, okay.
In his relationship with Carly, Shaun grows by leaps and bounds. He learns how to be comfortable with his autism. He learns that he is desirable even as someone with autism. He and Carly have open, honest, and deep conversations about their biases (Carly wondering if she is dating him to prove a point because her sister is autistic), their personalities (Shaun disliking intimate physical contact, i.e. handholding), fears (Shaun being afraid Carly will grow tired of his “issues”). For the record, she never gets tired of his “issues.”
Meanwhile, Lea hovers around their relationship like a visible ghost. She lives with Shaun until Carly tells him that she is not comfortable with their housing arrangement. Lea moves out, but less than two episodes later, she is around again, working in the same hospital as a technical assistant (y’all, Lea is supposed to be an automotive engineer! What does that have to do with medical software?)
Finally, the love triangle seems to be solved in S03E16 when Carly breaks up with Shaun because she thinks he is in love with Lea. It takes him an episode to get there, but Shaun agrees with Carly’s assessment and goes after Lea, because he “loves her more.” If I rolled my eyes any harder, they would pop out of their sockets.
Here’s why this is problematic: Shaun already picked Carly over Lea! In S03E11, he weighed Lea and Carly against each other, and picked Carly. If Shaun was not autistic, the storyline of him not “realizing” his love for Lea might be plausible. But he is, so it is not. Shaun is brutally honest and does not engage in nuanced emotional interactions that belie artifice. If he wanted Lea over Carly in S03E11, he would have picked Lea over Carly. But he didn’t.
So, for him to be persuaded that he loves Lea more than Carly because he and Lea sang into one mic at karaoke is a level of idiocy that Shaun should never even have considered. Shaun even tries justifying his decision by claiming Lea makes him a better version of himself (please read: not autistic).
Either Shaun is an idiot or the writers messed up by making Lea seem prejudiced. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Because Lea is who she is now, and Shaun is autistic. They do not fit together. It’s borderline toxic and just plain wrong. To insinuate that Carly did not make Shaun want to be better is a writer’s cop out. Shaun grew so much in one season with Carly than he did in two seasons with Lea. That might have something to do with Carly’s caring consistency and stability, something Lea is not great at.
I applaud Lea’s decision to reject Shaun, but it also highlights why it shouldn’t even have been an option in the first place.
Quick note: RAD playlist content changes every week.