The film, Cuties, or "Mignonnes" in French, has been a lightning rod for controversy since last month when its American release poster was heavily criticized as being too sexual.
The film, written and directed by French Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, is a coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Senegalese girl growing up in France. The girl, Amy, befriends a group of tween dancers at her French school and is drawn into their love of dance as she deals with troubles as home, the Hollywood Reporter says in its review of the movie.
However, the American release poster for the film drew controversy from a variety of voices. While conservative publications and groups like the Parents Television Council have accused the film of sexualizing young girls, American film critics have also accused Netflix of stoking controversy by providing a misleading poster. (Netflix later apologized for the marketing of the film.)
Other movie critics, like New York–based writer Aramide Tinubu, pointed out the film is actually critiquing the hypersexual dancing it portrays. Tinubu later wrote that in the film, "Doucouré is putting the spotlight on Black girls while helping them reclaim their girlhood."
In an interview with Tinubu for Zora magazine, Doucouré said the story was personal to her, noting that Amy's story mirrors what "it was like for [her] to grow up with the Senegalese culture at home and the Western culture outside."
However, after its release on Wednesday, Cuties and Netflix have found themselves the target of a new critic: the #SaveTheChildren conspiracy theory on social media.
In the past few weeks, right-wing conspiracy theorists have decided that Cuties is yet another example of child sex abuse in Hollywood, and they are now spreading the lie to thousands of followers on social media.
The #SaveTheChildren theorists on Instagram are a loud and growing group of people, many of whom are young white mothers who insist that human trafficking is an extensive and insidious problem that is plaguing the streets of America and being ignored by the media.
The conspiracy theory stems from the larger QAnon collective delusion, which baselessly claims that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of child sex abusers that President Donald Trump is fighting.
Over the past six months or so, QAnon believers have been using social media, particularly Instagram, to draw millennial and Gen Z women into the delusion. By using hashtags like #SaveTheChildren and talking about child sex abuse and human trafficking, QAnon believers play to the sympathies and fears of young and mostly white mothers that their children could be kidnapped and harmed.
Over time, these women have been drawn further and further into the rabbit hole of the collective QAnon delusion, which claims that Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities are working together to torture and eat children to strengthen themselves and their own nefarious goals.
In the past few months, several companies, people, and other entities have been targeted by the #SaveTheChildren crowd, most notably the furniture company Wayfair.
Now, Netflix is in their crosshairs.
After the release of Cuties, several prominent #SaveTheChildren and QAnon accounts began to claim that the film promoted child sex abuse and is a sign that the media is insidiously trying to insert sexualized children into American homes.
"Don't believe pedophelia is a rampant problem?" lifestyle influencer–turned–QAnon hype girl Rebecca Pfeiffer, aka LuvBec, wrote. "And don't believe the elite support it? How the hell does a show like this make it to a major streaming network?"
Perhaps the best known QAnon account on Instagram, Little Miss Patriot, posted that the film proves Netflix "promotes pedophilia." (The anonymous account holder posted from what is allegedly her only true profile, @the.little.miss.patriot, after her main page with more than 300,000 followers was kicked off Instagram last week.)
Now, many people on social media are calling on others to boycott or cancel Netflix over the film. Angela Stanton-King, a Republican congressional candidate from Georgia who has tweeted QAnon slogans in the past, called on her more than 250,000 Instagram followers to cancel their subscriptions.
The hashtag soon became popular with the #SaveTheChildren crowd, and many of them vowed to end their subscriptions.
QAnon accounts on Instagram like @greatawakening3 cheered their supposed effect on Netflix's stock price.
And several conspiracy theory accounts filled their posts about the film and Netflix with a variety of QAnon hashtags like #fallofcabal, #wwg1wga, and #pizzagate.
Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News about the QAnon campaign, but it told Variety that the film's critics should watch it before making a snap judgment.
“‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson said. “It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”