Netflix faces litigation over airing a film critics say could attract pedophiles.
A Tyler County, Texas, grand jury has charged Netflix with the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child” related to its new film Cuties, accusing the streaming platform of “appealing to the prurient interest in sex” and suggesting it has “no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” according to the indictment.
Lucas Babin, a criminal district attorney said, “The legislators of this state believe promoting certain lewd material of children has destructive consequences. If such material is distributed on a grand scale, isn’t the need to prosecute more, not less? A grand jury in Tyler county found probable cause for this felony, and my job is to uphold the laws of this State and see that justice is done.”
Netflix responded, “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
Cuties first debuted in France under the French title Mignonnes and centers around an 11-year-old girl named Amy as she starts to rebel against her Senegalese, Muslim family and becomes captivated by one of her classmates who heads a dance team that performs suggestive moves in revealing outfits. According to the film’s crew, it depicts a preteen girl’s struggles with viewing idealistic images on the internet which impact the girl’s self-esteem, body image and sexuality. A Netflix spokesperson called the movie a “powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up” and encouraged anyone who felt strongly about these issues to watch it.
At the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020 Cuties was met with positive reviews from film critics and Director Maïmouna Doucouré even received an award. Netflix acquired the rights to the film soon after, and it was released internationally in September. The platform’s promotional poster for the film depicted a sexually suggestive image of a young girl and received negative feedback even prior to its release. Netflix ultimately apologized for its marketing choice and updated image just in time for it to go live.
Doucouré said in a media interview in September that she “received multiple death threats surrounding the incident,” and that Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos had “called her directly to apologize.” Critic backlash eventually led to the creation of the hashtag #CancelNetflix campaign on Twitter, with high-profile politicians including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claiming the movie sexualized young girls.
“I, of course, had hoped that it would have prompted a debate on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescents,” Doucouré said. “But never in my dreams had I imagined that my point of view would become so misinterpreted.” The director claims the story of Amy is actually based on her own experiences once upon a time. She added, “My aesthetic take, aesthetic perspective is to hold a mirror in front of the world so that we as adults are able to see what we have created, what is our responsibility towards our children, in the way we have brought them up.”