A new report claims that Netflix internally scrambled to suppress search results and tweak its algorithm for the controversial film “Cuties” in an attempt to minimize backlash to the film.
The Verge reported Wednesday that Netflix removed “Cuties” from its “coming soon” and “popular searches” categories and that it was excluded from searches that included the words “cute.” The article claimed Netflix also adjusted its algorithm so that queries such as “steamy/sexual titles” did not surface kids films, and the streamer also made sure that problematic search terms such as “pedo” did not surface “Cuties” because the algorithm takes into account behavioral data.
An internal Netflix document reviewed by The Verge said Netflix sought to “suppress promotion and related search queries” for the film.
“Our recommendations help members find great titles to watch amidst all the choices on Netflix. Not every title gets promoted in the same way, just as every member’s homepage is different,” a Netflix spokesperson told TheWrap on Wednesday.
“Cuties” is a French-language film directed by French-Senegal director Maimouna Doucouré that was released in September of last year. It faced fierce backlash after an American poster for the movie showed its young stars, as young as 12 years old, wearing crop tops, short shorts and striking suggestive dance poses.
Many in right-wing media and in the conspiracy group QAnon pounced on the film and on Netflix before its release as an example of the hyper-sexualization of young girls, and a Texas grand jury even tried to label the film “child porn.” Doucouré spoke about getting death threats and attacks from people who had not even seen the film.
However, the backlash mostly concerned the film’s poster, while the movie itself was critically acclaimed upon its release at Sundance, where Netflix acquired the film. Both the director and Netflix repeatedly defended the movie as a “social commentary against the sexualization of young children.” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos had even called Doucouré to apologize for the film’s American poster, which she only saw online at the same time that the public did.
The Verge reported, however, that the “Cuties” controversy caused the streamer to reassess how it approaches sensitive content. A post-mortem analysis of the situation said that while Netflix originally saw itself as just the “conduit for content,” especially since “Cuties” was an acquisition and not an original production, users and the public could not distinguish the difference and viewed Netflix as the author or presenter of the content.
“As a result, we may unconsciously absolve ourselves of the need to view our content through this lens,” the document obtained by The Verge read.
The report comes in the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s latest stand-up special “The Closer,” with Netflix employees and activists criticizing the comedian’s comments as “transphobic.”
Read the full report via The Verge.