Cuties, human dignity and cancelling Netflix 

I love Netflix. I love that I can watch sitcoms and movies, as well as virtually any documentary I like, at any hour of the day or night. For a kid who grew up with three channels, rabbit ears and the occasional VHS rental cassette, its quite an amazing advancement. 

But Netflix has been letting me down lately. 

The latest offender is a French movie called Cuties. Its the story of Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who rebels against her conservative Muslim parents by becoming involved with a free-spirited” girls’ dance group who call themselves the Mignonnes.”  

And if by free-spirited” they mean highly sexualized” then yes, thats exactly what these girls are. 

Netflix has defended the movie, saying that critics should watch it before making assumptions. I didnt really see the need, as a (since withdrawn) promotional photo Id seen earlier, of scantily clad pre-pubescent girls in clearly provocative positions, told me pretty much everything I needed to know. But I figured I would take them up on the suggestion, both because it would help me to write an informed critique, and it would allow me to unpack and set up my new furniture while still technically working” on my column. Honestly, I was probably motivated more by the second than the first. 

Ironically, when I logged into Netflix to find the movie, the first show on their featured” page was a jaunty-looking little series called Lucifer, which featured a wry photo of a clearly naked man. This didn’t bode well neither for my day, nor for my future with Netflix. 

The movie started out going back and forth between the drama of a Muslim family in crisis, and daughter Amys increasing involvement with a quartet of girls in her school class who are obsessed with erotic dance and male genitalia. At about 30 minutes in, a young girl — make that a VERY young girl — seductively exposed a budding breast. On camera. Five minutes later, several 11-year-olds were simulating sexual acts. 

I was done. Im told there is a lot more. I will take their word for it. I saw enough to understand why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has condemned Netflix for airing a film that has permitted the sexual exploitation of children. 

A spokeswoman for Netflix defended the film, saying that Cuties is a social commentary against the exploitation of young children.” I saw none of that in the 40 some minutes I watched. But I will gladly stipulate to it. Maybe it is. Maybe it ends up making the most powerful statement against child sexualization that has ever been uttered in the entire history of streaming television services. I dont care, because the point — and I cant believe I actually have to say this out loud — is simply that you dont protest the sexual exploitation of children by sexually exploiting children. Let me say that again: you dont protest the sexual exploitation of children by sexually exploiting children. 

Those young actresses arent cartoons or holograms. They are real, flesh-and-blood young girls. Young girls, with real, developing human bodies and immortal souls, created with immeasurable dignity in the image and likeness of God. As St. John Paul II said in his Theology of the Body, what we do with our bodies matters. And what the producers and directors of this film have done is exploit and sexualize their young bodies and put those bodies on display for every pedophile and pervert in the world who can scrape together $11 a month for a Netflix subscription. I dont care if they did it to make a point, or to make a profit, or to save the entire free world. It was wrong, very wrong. 

Consider this. Somebody taught these girls those moves — the writhing, the crotch grabbing and thrusting, the sensuous expressions. They no doubt rehearsed it for weeks. They were observed and critiqued and judged by producers and directors and choreographers. Before that young girl flashed her breast to the entire Netflix world, she flashed it to an entire camera crew. Live and in person. Repeatedly, Im sure. 

Im told the movie ends with the fictional Amy running away in tears, trying to regain her innocence. But who is going to restore the innocence of the real life 14-year-old Fathia Youssouf, who portrayed her? 

The end, no matter how noble, does not justify the means. 

Even if the images were holograms, the impact of this movie on society would still be terrible. The images we put out into the airways, and into peoples brains, matter. This movie normalizes images of child sexualization, which endangers kids everywhere and risks their further sexualization. 

When I was praying this morning, I asked God what he wanted me to say in this column today. And the immediate thought that came to me was Satan hates innocence.” I think it was no coincidence that the first show Netflix pitched to me was entitled Lucifer. It was confirmation. Satan does hate innocence. And innocence is under attack. One in every four sexual trafficking victims is a child. The state of California is on the verge of relaxing its statutory rape laws when the perpetrators age is within 10 years of the victim. Former child stars are calling press conferences and writing books to denounce the rampant sexual abuse they and other young actors and actresses have endured in Hollywood. 

The very last thing we need right now is a mass market film sexualizing preadolescent girls. 

Several members of Congress are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate Netflix over possible violation of child pornography laws. The hashtag #CancelNetflix is trending. A petition on change.org has already gathered over 600,000 signatures, including mine. Netflix has apologized for the aforementioned promotional photo. But they are standing by the film. 

Im sure gonna miss those documentaries. 

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.