Maïmouna Doucouré • Director of Cuties
“This isn’t a health & safety ad”
- French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré tells us about her feature debut, Cuties, awarded at Sundance and Berlin and acquired by Netflix, now landing in French cinemas
Recognised with the award for Best Director in the World Cinema Dramatic section of the Sundance Film Festival, and with a Special Mention in the Generation Kplus section in Berlin, Cuties [+see also:
interview: Maïmouna Doucouré
film profile] is the feature debut from Maïmouna Doucouré. Handled by Bien ou Bien Productions and acquired by Netflix, the film is launched in French cinemas on 19 August by Bac Films.
Cineuropa: How was the idea for Cuties born?
Maïmouna Doucouré : The day I saw, at a neighbourhood party, a group of young girls aged around 11 years old, going up on stage and dancing in a very sensual way while wearing very revealing clothes. I was rather shocked and I wondered if they were aware of the image of sexual availability that they were projecting. In the audience, there were also more traditional mothers, some of them wearing veils: it was a real culture shock. I was stunned and I thought back to my own childhood, because I’ve often asked myself questions about my own femininity, about evolving between two cultures, about my Senegalese culture which comes from my parents and my western culture. But I needed the 2020 version of that youth, so for a year and a half, I stopped groups of young girls in the street, sometimes in schools or when organisations opened their doors to me. I recorded them or filmed them when I had their parents’ authorisation, and I gathered their stories to find out where they situated themselves as children, as girls, as future women; how they placed themselves in society with their girlfriends, their families, at school, with social networks. All these stories fed into the writing of Cuties.
The film is very careful not to judge the characters.
Yes, because this isn’t a health & safety ad. This is most of all an uncompromising portrait of an 11-year-old girl plunged in a world that imposes a series of dictates on her. It was very important not to judge these girls, but most of all to understand them, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to take into account the complexity of what they’re living through in society, and all of that in parallel with their childhood which is always there, their imaginary, their innocence.
You denounce the impact of social media at that age.
During my research, I saw that all these young girls I’d met were very exposed on social media. And with new social codes, the ways of presenting yourself change. I saw that some very young girls were followed by 400,000 people on social media and I tried to understand why. There were no particular reasons, besides the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing pictures: that is what had brought them this “fame.” Today, the sexier and the more objectified a woman is, the more value she has in the eyes of social media. And when you’re 11, you don’t really understand all these mechanisms, but you tend to mimic, to do the same thing as others in order to get a similar result. I think it is urgent that we talk about it, that a debate be had on the subject.
When you received your award in Sundance, you delivered a very powerful speech on the place of women and of diversity in cinema.
It has to be talked about. We know that there is a problem, and it isn’t by hiding from it that it will go away. We need more models, in higher positions. Seeing a woman president, female astronauts, female engineers: these models are indispensable for the construction of little girls, essential to open their imagination. In that regard, I think cinema has an important role to play. However, I’ve never felt more French than when I was in the United States. In that country, I’m just a French director. Of course, the question of the place of women is discussed, but the notion of diversity isn’t particularly brought up to me. But in France, I have the feeling that there are sci-fi films, dramas, comedies, etc., and another genre: the “diversity genre”. We must talk about it today so that things change, but we will only truly be happy and we will only stop fighting once this “diversity genre” has disappeared. Because, for example, no one wants to be selected at a film festival out of positive discrimination. Whether you’re a woman or issued from diversity, what matters is that your work is fully recognised artistically, for what it is and not for what you represent.
(Translated from French)
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