Art is often controversial, but one recent addition to the Netflix (NFLX -0.27%) catalog is stirring up some potentially unwanted attention. Cuties -- a French coming-of-age film with a culture-clash bent about a Senegalese girl in France with a conservative Muslim upbringing trying to click with her new dance team -- is coming under fire from naysayers arguing the film sexualizes its 11-year-old characters.
Cuties is far from the raciest thing you will see on Netflix starring minors, but some grassroots movements have a way of getting companies entangled in the weeds. Subscription analytics company ANTENNA reported last week that its trend tracking of the leading streaming service finds Netflix cancellations in the first five days since Cuties' Sept. 9 debut were five times the number of defections the platform experienced in the previous 30 days. It's a pretty jarring statistic, but like knocking a movie many of the #CancelNetflix hashtag-wielding critics probably haven't seen, you don't really have the whole story here.
Netflix didn't do itself any favors by hyping the film last month ahead of this month's premiere with suggestive shots and a movie description calling the dance competition that serves as the film's climax a "twerking contest." Netflix went on to fix those initial miscues, but the boobirds only grew louder.
The thing about Cuties is that it came to Netflix with a fair degree of critical acclaim. It won an award at Sundance earlier this year, and 85% of the film critics tracked by reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes recommend the film.
There is mounting pressure for taking Cuties off the air, but it's also easy to see why Netflix isn't flinching. The foreign film has won global accolades, and it also seems as if a lot of the loudest criticisms are coming from folks who haven't seen the movie.
It's not a movie for kids. It's a movie for adults about kids. It's in the same spirit as Eighth Grade, Mid90s, and Good Boys about the pressures of going through puberty and growing up in modern times, only this time set in France with a culture clash raising the stakes. There are moments in Cuties that can be awkward and uncomfortable -- a lot like growing up -- but all of the flirtations go unrequited.
Will Netflix regret distributing Cuties? We'll find out in a less than a month. Netflix reports financial results for the quarter that ends this month on Oct. 20. It's daunting to hear that U.S. cancellations are surging, but that's not a complete picture. Most of Netflix's growth in recent years has come from its overseas expansion, and #CancelNetflix is a stateside phenomenon. A whopping 62% of Netflix subscribers -- and an even larger share of its growth -- stems from members outside of the U.S. and Canada.
We also don't know if Cuties is the only cause for the reported spike in cancellations. The new school year started, movie theaters have reopened, and stay-at-home restrictions are starting be relaxed. Entertainment options and diversions have ramped up in September. People who may have paused their memberships in protest of Cuties should be back when a show or movie they want to check out debuts on Netflix.
Netflix can't reverse this position. For every subscriber that bolted earlier this month there likely would be more if Netflix were to start censoring its content based on the whims of trending hashtags on social media. Netflix would also lose credibility with studios if it caved on the matter, and -- yes -- this is every inch a media company these days. Netflix will get over the Cuties cancellations, and we'll know in a few weeks if it was even a thing this month.