The controversy surrounding Maïmouna Doucouré’s Mignonnes/Cuties—a film designed to question and criticize a culture that endlessly sexualizes female children, and which was then accused, by people who had never watched it, of instead participating in and celebrating said culture—is likely to be a landmark one for Netflix. More than a year after the Sundance award winner’s (ultimately very quiet) release—and while Netflix faces a new backlash for its full-throated support of transphobic material in Dave Chappelle’s The Closer—the movie still gets brought up in conversations about criticisms of the streaming giant, and its reactions to those critiques.
A new piece from The Verge this week dialed into those reactions, citing documents outlining the ways that Netflix did everything it could to invisibly distance itself from Cuties, without being seen to back down from supporting the film’s release.
Specifically, the Verge report dials into Netflix’s efforts to alter and game itsown search algorithm in order to make Cuties more difficult for its users to find. That included removing the film from its “Coming Soon” displays, ensuring that searches for “cute” would fail to show the film, and directly controlling what movies could appear alongside Doucouré’s film when users did search for its title directly. (Nothing explicitly sexual could be shown near it.)
The goal, per The Verge, was to
“minimize press coverage” related to the poster and “avoid looking like we have removed the film page from service, are moving release date and/or not launch the film,” as “this could be seen as reactionary.”
The Verge report suggests that the Cuties backlash (which was prompted at least in part by a Netflix-created poster that emphasized the characters’ sexualization) might have actually led to an uptick in Netflix cancellations; it also reportedly led to a shift in how the company approached licensed material, disabusing the streamer of the idea that audiences could tell the difference between a movie licensed by Netflix, and one the studio actually produced.
The last few months have seen a marked increase in public visibility on Netflix’s inner workings—presumably spurred, at least in part, by discontent among the company’s ranks, with the company firing an employee involved in trans rights organization at the company over accusations of data leakage. In addition to this data about the company’s control over its own search algorithms, we also recently got significant data on how it chooses what to produce, and the cost-benefit analyses it runs on new projects—as well as Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’ own views on the ways the company’s content can (or can’t, in at least one of Sarandos’ conceptions) affect the wider world.