Fish Tank Film Study

Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold

When it comes to storytelling, certain themes are easy to get wrong. Attempts at subversion can end up reinforcing a culturally dominant message. Specifically, attempts to show the sexual vulnerability of teenage girls can tip into objectification in the wrong hands, or sometimes mostly by the people in charge of the marketing materials.

When Netflix advertised the film Cuties, they were widely panned for using the image on the left, below. Notice how the French theatrical poster emphasises girlhood and friendship while the Netflix poster sexually objectifies pubescent girls.

Director Maïmouna Doucouré received death threats over the Netflix Cuties poster. Unfortunately for the director, the marketing team messed up. The film is actually a “nuanced, sensitive tale of a pre-teen girl who gets caught between two cultures – her conservative, religious upbringing and the pull of her liberal French school friends who are influenced by the internet and social media.”

The thing is, marketing materials (a story’s epitext) are a work of art in their own right, and still images pulled in isolation from of a subversive story require the rest of the text to make sense, and are therefore misleading.

Marketing materials aside, others argue that the story of Cuties itself is exploitative:

To avoid abusing children in the production of the story, Doucouré could have chosen to tell the story without creating such sexually explicit material as was shown on screen, or she could have hired actors over the age of 18, but that’s not what happened.

“The audience does not need to see the very long scenes with close-up shots of the girls’ bodies; this does nothing to educate the audience on the harms of sexualization,” Lina Nealon, director of corporate and strategic initiatives at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said in an NCOSE statement. “Netflix could and should insist that the particularly sexually-exploitative scenes are cut from the film, or stop hosting this film at all.”

Netflix’s ‘Cuties’ Didn’t Have to Participate in Exploitation to Expose It:
That the film made it this far shows our culture is already desensitized to the hypersexualization of minors. MARY ROSE SOMARRIBA

Stories about adults can come under the same criticism. Mad Men was also criticised for seeming on the one hand to critique the misogyny of the 1950s and 60s advertising world while at the same time objectifying women.

Now to Fish Tank. This is one film which does an excellent job of depicting the vulnerability of teenage girls is Fish Tank (2009) written and directed by Andrea Arnold.

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