The Twitterati pounced on the opportunity to speak up. Some viewers were genuinely disturbed, expecting something appropriate for an audience that was the age of those actually featured in the film. Some, who jumped in with the hashtag #CancelNetflix, were hating on Cuties after a two-minute preview. Of course, the movie became a unifying force among conservatives. Many of them, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, called it “child porn”; two lawmakers even called for the Department of Justice to investigate the streaming service.
To be sure, there are troubling moments in this film as it relates to sexuality — one in particular sees the main character using seduction to get out of a messy situation with two older men. But the truth is, things like that happen every single day to young Black girls. And our community has not collectively protected our children. We either see Black womanhood as nonautonomous sex objects or keep-your-legs crossed sexual demons to be controlled. Both are approaches that hold us back from recognizing a young woman’s moments of self and sexual discovery as valid and indeed enlightening experiences.
For film director Maïmouna Doucouré and the Muslim voices she wishes to amplify, it seems like the heads over at Netlflix believed that the twerking was the story. Netflix’s marketing decisions (to which Doucouré told Zora she wasn’t privy ahead of its release) worked to disservice her film — even after it earned Doucouré the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — by centering the sexual aspect over the film’s true narrative: the power and confusion of young revolt.
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It’s important here to note that the film knows what it’s doing. Beyond Netflix’s problematic marketing plan, the film itself forces you to reconcile how you feel about Black girls and sexuality. Even in its climactic scenes, the film expresses without judgment how patriarchy cajoles young people and their environments to adopt destructive attitudes.
Cuties is a bareface look at a young Black girl learning how her body is perceived by the outside world and how she may be able to use it as a currency if she so chooses. And it’s this currency that is used in films with hardly different narrative themes like Call Me By Your Name, HoneyBoy, or Booksmart. These themes are not new. Why do we double-take and judge when the characters look like us?
— Tirhakah Love, staff writer
This Week in Racism
🗑 71-year-old Wisconsin man schools young whippersnappers by spraying White supremacist graffiti all over college campus
Earlier this month, a 71-year-old Madison man boosted his street cred — and his rap sheet — by spray painting White supremacist tags on buildings on and around the University of Wisconsin’s campus. Unleashing his inner hip-hop, John G. Englert graffitied several buildings with variations of “AB,” “Aryan Brotherhood,” “WLM,” and “White Lives Matter Most,” all representative of pure, uncut hatred. (And some of the weakest scribble you’ve never seen — dude didn’t even use bubble font!) But the writings were on the wall for the senior citizen’s downfall, as the shittiest game of tag ever ended last week when he was recognized via surveillance footage. After being slapped with multiple charges of criminal property damage, and misdemeanor and felony bail jumping, the bigoted bomber was sent straight to jail, which is fitting since dude looks like a drugged-up Monopoly man gone (morally) bankrupt. (Wisconsin State Journal)
🗑 Pennsylvania restaurant prefers its racism doggystyle, gets hounded by angry commenters
Fred’s Breakfast Club of New Hope, Pennsylvania has given the term dog-whistle racism a whole new meaning. Personnel at the members-only diner decided to spruce up the canine-themed decor with a sign that displays an off-color joke about a dog owner applying pooches for welfare. “My dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, can’t speak English and have no clue who their Daddies are,” the sign reads, followed by some more stereotypes copy and pasted straight out of Xenophobia for Dummies. The gag was reportedly submitted by someone seeking membership into the exclusive eatery, but the restaurant clearly barked up the wrong tree when an image of the sign landed on the Bucks County NAACP page. After getting dog walked by commenters online, the sign was removed, and the owner apologized and offered an expected cop-out — innocent intent. We just want to know what Racism Watchdog thinks about all of this. Can we get a “Woof woof?!” (Fox News)
🗑 Father and son apple farmers keep racism in the family business
Racism: It’s about as American as apple pie. So it should come as no surprise that West Michigan’s EDS Schoenborn Orchards came under fire last week after audio surfaced of the owner’s son verbally abusing employees. Travis Schoenborn, 31, was captured on tape spitting at workers and calling them racial slurs, leading some local companies to cease business with the orchard altogether. He’s clearly not the only rotten apple in the family, though. After initially denying the authenticity of the recording, the guy’s dad, David, casually dropped the N-bomb while speaking with the local news outlet, dutifully insisting that the employees in question are actually Mexican and pretty much responsible for their own abuse. Looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Wood TV)
The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors
🎧 Conway The Machine, From King to a God
More than once on this proper debut album, Conway The Machine proclaims his proclivity for dropping best-verse-of-the-year contenders. And then the 38-year-old rapper does just that, upping the hard-white ante from song to song over beats by a royal row of producers (Hit-Boy, DJ Premier, The Alchemist) and some god MCs (Method Man). All praises are due to Griselda’s lyrical supreme being. (Spotify)
📺 OWN Spotlight: They Call Me Dad
Why save all of the dad programming for Father’s Day? OWN is highlighting the relationships that a handful of famous Black dads have with their children in this one-hour documentary special, focusing on DJ D-Nice, Bishop T.D. Jakes, New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, Kirk Franklin, and Anthony Hamilton. Give it up for biologicals that bother. (9/15 at 9 p.m. EDT, OWN)
📱 Madison Calley
This Los Angelist-based harpist is classically trained in wielding an instrument that towers over her, which comes in handy as she regularly posts soothing renditions of R&B tracks both modern and nostalgic (her cover of Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” came right on time for #Verzuz). If you’re anything like us, your Instagram timeline could use a good saging right about now. Mash that follow button, and thank us later. (Instagram)
LEVEL Read of the Week
Please Stop Sending Me ‘I Hope You’re Well’ Emails — I’m Not
You know those four dreaded words that start damn-near every email that hits your inbox. There has to be a better opening to address your colleagues in this hellish year. And, well, there are. With his usual mix of real talk and wit, The Only Black Guy in the Office presents some 2020-friendly alternatives. Forward it to everyone in your contacts. Read the story.
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