Republicans use movie to appeal to conservatives while casting Democrats as soft on child abuse

At heart of backlash is the idea that ‘Cuties’ is irresponsibly sexualising preteen girls

The controversial French film

, accused of sexualising little girls, has been pulled into the US election fray.

Statements by Republican lawmakers and an online campaign have tapped into concern over child sexual molestation, making the film political leverage in the battle to re-elect Republican President Donald Trump.

While the initial reaction to

was to attack Netflix, which launched the film online last week, Republican activists are now charging that the social drama is a by-product of an overly liberal culture – and that it promotes paedophilia.

Republican lawmakers have called for a federal investigation into the film.

Senator Ted Cruz told Attorney General Bill Barr in a letter that the film is “likely” to encourage paedophiles.

“The film routinely fetishises and sexualises these preadolescent girls as they perform dances simulating sexual conduct in revealing clothing,” said Cruz.

He said that the Justice Department should determine if the French filmmakers or Netflix “violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography”.

In a separate letter to Barr, Republican Congressman Ken Buck said the film normalises “sexual abuse and exploitation of children by paedophiles” and raises alarms that the filmmakers “exploited” young girls who appear in it.

The film, called “Mignonnes” in French, portrays a young, rebellious French Senegalese girl who joins a preteen hip-hop dance group that is pushed into performing suggestive dances.

The story ultimately becomes a critique of the over-sexualisation of young girls, and earned director Maimouna Doucoure an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

In an op-ed in

on Wednesday, Doucoure rejected the charges of abusing girls, and said her film was about the objectification of women and children, and the pressure preteen girls feel to be pretty and sexy.

“This film is my own story,” the Senagalese-French filmmaker wrote, which she said she made “to start a debate about the sexualisation of children in society today”.

The initial campaign against

called for conservatives to close their Netflix accounts.

, the Hollywood journal, reported Tuesday that cancellations had soared eight times their normal levels as a result.

But Republicans have used the animosity towards the film as a way of accusing Democrats of not doing anything about child abuse.

Trump’s son Donald Jnr asked in a tweet Monday why Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Trump ally, is “essentially the only mainstream Democrat who was willing to come out against the normalisation of paedophilia and the sexualisation of our children? The rest seem to be rushing to the defence of Cuties.”

And just as the furor exploded online, Republican activists propelled the hashtag “pedoBiden” on Twitter on Monday to falsely smear Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic presidential rival, posting pictures of him with young women.

Trump himself retweeted a post with that hashtag on Tuesday, with the White House offering no justification.

The attention appeared designed to fire up a base of conservative voters, particularly women interested in child welfare issues, as Trump struggles behind Biden in polls.

Trump’s campaign has made a concerted push to woo suburban women voters, claiming Democrats threaten their families and communities.

One particular driver of the

furor is the QAnon network, whose mostly pro-Trump followers subscribe to baseless theories involving organised rings of Satanists who in kidnap and abuse children.

The controversy over

echoes the viral “pizzagate” conspiracy theory of 2016, which was driven by Trump supporters who alleged that his rival Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were part of a child kidnapping ring operating from the basement of a Washington pizzeria.

That almost ended in tragedy when a man who believed the story invaded the restaurant with an assault rifle and shot off several rounds – but ultimately did not hurt anyone.

“Cuties is not child porn. It’s commentary AGAINST sexualising young girls,” noted Evan Shapiro, an assistant professor of business at New York University.

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